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Astronomers are Watching a Young Earth Being Formed

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts have discovered a new planet forming an earth-like orbit around a young star.

The star, TW Hydrae, has been studied by astronomers because of its close proximity to Earth. It is approximately 175 light years away and about 10 million years old. The star is large enough to create a solar system larger and with more planets than our own.

Artist's Rendering of TW Hydrae

Artist’s Rendering of TW Hydrae

Sean Andrews, lead author of a paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, says,

Previous studies with optical and radio telescopes confirm that this star hosts a prominent disk with features that strongly suggests planets are beginning to coalesce.

Planet-Forming Disk

Planet-Forming Disk

The study used images from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) that clearly show new details in this planet forming disk around the sun-like star, the same distance from the star as Earth is from the sun. The question is whether this is a baby version of Earth or the beginnings of a “super planet.”

Andrews says,

The new ALMA images show the disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there. This is the highest spatial revolution image ever from a protoplanetary disk from ALMA, and that won’t be easily beaten going forward.

Co-author of the study, David Wilner, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics adds,

TW Hydrae is quite special. It is the nearest known protoplanetary disk to earth and it may closely resemble our Solar-System when it was only 10 million years old.

The next phase is to research how common the features are in disks around other young stars and to determine how they change with time in their environment.