A Planet is Born

Apr 2, 2008 8:38am

There’s a beautiful image today from the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we hope you’ll like it. It is a computer-generated simulation of a young star, say astronomers, with a vast disc of rock and dust around it gradually forming a new  planet — the bright dot in the upper right.  Dr. Jane Greaves of the University of St. Andrews is reporting on it today at an astronomy meeting in Belfast.  She and colleagues observed it with radio telescopes in the U.S. and Britain. The star is called HL Tau, in the constellation Taurus the Bull, and it is believed to be only about 100,000 years old  — a baby in astronomical terms.  (The Sun is 4.6 billion years old.)  It’s about 520 light years away from us.  According to the team studying it, it’s the youngest planet ever seen taking shape. "We see a distinct orbiting ball of gas and dust, which is exactly how a very young protoplanet should look," says Greaves in a statement. "The protoplanet is about 14 times as massive as Jupiter and is about twice as far from HL Tau as Neptune is from our Sun." Click HERE for more from the Royal Observatory, including the raw observations on which the simulation was based, and  (at the bottom of the page) an animated version of the simulation — a view, in other words, of a solar system in the  making.

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