Scientists Find Very Young Planet: VLA produces images of a young star

Updated: March 19, 2016
Scientists Find Very Young Planet: VLA produces images of a young star

Researchers find a planet so young it isn’t even really a planet yet.

The Very Large Array radio telescope west of Socorro has produced new images of a young star and what scientists say may reveal the very earliest stages in the formation of planets.

The images, made in 2014 and 2015, show unprecedented detail of the inner portion of a dusty disk surrounding the star, known as HL Tau, which is some 450 light-years from Earth. Gaps within the disk are believed to be caused by planet-like bodies sweeping out the dust along their orbits, according to scientists working on the project.

Astronomers say the images are important because, unlike formations of stars, few stages of planet formation have ever been observed.

The star and its disk were studied in 2014 with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile. That study produced what astronomers then called the best image ever of planet formation in progress. The VLA, which receives longer radio wavelengths than the ALMA, revealed a distinct clump of dust in the inner region of the disk. The clump, the scientists said, contains roughly three to eight times the mass of the Earth.

The VLA study of HL Tau was an international collaboration, involving the National Autonomous University of Mexico, National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Spain. Carrasco-Gonzalez and Henning, the project’s leaders, are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.