The planets are formed from the cosmic dust and gas present in the protoplanetary disks that surround the stars – material that collides and gradually aggregates until it has enough gravity so that everything remains cohesive and a new world is born. For, a group of astronomers managed to capture images of this process hundreds of light-years away from Earth, something that had never been obtained with such a wealth of details before.
Scientists know how planet formation happens and protoplanetary disks – which basically function as planetary maternity hospitals – have been observed on countless occasions. However, this is the first time that the process itself has been observed and photographed in such detail. See below:
It may not seem like much, but previous observations of protoplanetary discs have resulted in images with much lower resolutions than the one you just saw, and therefore revealed much less information to scientists. To give you an idea, even though most of us don’t see much of anything from the photos, astronomers can identify patterns of planetary formation and characterize the properties of the disks.
In the case of the observations we shared with you, astronomers used a technique known as infrared interferometry – and used the European Southern Observatory (ESO), located in the Atacama Desert, in Chile, to capture the images. The method is relatively new for this type of observation and, as you have seen, it does not generate a photo itself, but it allows to obtain an immense amount of data.
Then, through the use of mathematical models and information processing, scientists were able to eliminate the light emitted by the stars in the center of the discs and identify details that other observation techniques do not always allow. Just for the sake of comparison, astronomers said that through this technique, it is as if they were able to study a hair that is 10 kilometers away.
And you want to know where in the images you can see planets “being born”? Did you notice that there are more and less bright spots in the photos? According to the astronomers who conducted the observations, they indicate possible instabilities in the protoplanetary disk that can result in vortices that, in turn, can generate a greater accumulation of gas and cosmic dust, causing the agglomeration and accretion of materials that, eventually, will result in emergence of a new planet.