Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) was able to snap the galactic drama of a planet being born some 450 light-years away from the Earth.
The images captured are believed to showcase the earliest stages of planet formation, presenting specific details of the core of the dusty disk surrounding the star.
"This is an important discovery, because we have not yet been able to observe most stages in the process of planet formation," says Carlos Carrasco-Gonzalez from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Exciting But Incomplete Discovery
In 2014, the said star and its disk called the HL Tau were observed using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). During that time, astronomers said that ALMA was able to capture the best image ever of planet formation.
The said image exhibited disk gaps, believed to be due to planet-like materials that brushed off the dust along the orbits.
While the image was able to show the outer areas of the disk, the inner regions, which are closest to the young star, were enveloped in thick dust that is opaque to the short radio wavelengths collected by ALMA.
Scientists Turn To VLA For Clarity
To get a more vivid picture of the inner portions of the disk, experts used the VLA, which are able to obtain longer wavelengths. Such observatory was able to present the inner regions better than any other previous attempts.
For comparison, the VLA was able to receive radio waves that are seven millimeters in diameter, while the ALMA was able to receive a mere one millimeter. As per detail, both observatories were able to present fairly similar information.
VLA was specifically able to show a definite blob of dust in the inner part of the disk. As per scientists, this blob holds about three to eight times more mass than the Earth.
Thomas Henning from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy says the team believes that the blob of dust depicts the earliest phases of protoplanet formation, which is something that they have never observed before.
For Carrasco-Gonzalez, such discovery is different from formation of any other stars, which life stages have already been observed by experts. The case now is unique because astronomers are quite unfortunate at getting a closer look at early planet formation.
More Information About HL Tau Via VLA
With the VLA images, experts are able to gain more information about the HL Tau. First, they learned that the inner region has very large grains that measure about one centimeter in diameter. Astronomers presume that this is where Earth-like planets would be produced, as blobs of dust grow by attracting surrounding objects. Subsequently, the clump would become so big that the solid bodies would continue to form planets.
VLA is truly valuable in the quest for more data about planet formation. Claire Chandler from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory says the images of HL Tau collated by VLA is by far the most sensitive and detailed picture of the disk at longer wavelengths.
The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.