Stare deep into the eye of this planetary disk because something is forming in there — something incredible.
This photo of star TW Hydrae from the ALMA Observatory is the most detailed shot of a protoplanetary disk ever capture. It’s not the star or the disk around it that has scientists really excited, though. It’s the gaps, particularly one familiar one which shows a planet forming at exactly the orbiting distance between the Earth and the Sun.
“The new ALMA images show the disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there,” explains lead author of the paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters, Sean Andrews of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
ALMA Observatory describes the still forming structure as being consistent with either “an infant version of our home planet” or perhaps a larger “super-Earth” version. Of course, planet formation is slow, uncertain business and it’s not clear yet precisely what kind of planet will eventually emerge from the dust.
Still, in a universe of countless cold, dead planets, it’s just-right position around a star makes it a potential planet with incredible possibilities for study, for research, and perhaps even, someday in the far distant future, for life. And that’s worth keeping an eye on.