Space

Does a nearby star host an Earth-like planet?

The new findings reveal that the object, located just 175 light-years away, is similar to a infant version of our own Solar System
The new findings reveal that the object, located just 175 light-years away, is similar to a infant version of our own Solar System
View 2 Images
The new findings reveal that the object, located just 175 light-years away, is similar to a infant version of our own Solar System
1/2
The new findings reveal that the object, located just 175 light-years away, is similar to a infant version of our own Solar System
The most intriguing of the gaps (pictured top right) is found at a similar distance to that of the Earth from the Sun – some 150 million km (93 million miles)
2/2
The most intriguing of the gaps (pictured top right) is found at a similar distance to that of the Earth from the Sun – some 150 million km (93 million miles)

The European Southern Observatory's(ESO) Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has made some stunning and insightful observations since its inauguration in 2013, including looks at galaxy formation in the early Universe and snaps of the Milky Way's largest known stellar womb. The telescope's latest effort is one of its mostimpressive yet, providing us with the best-ever look at aplanet-forming disc.

TW Hydrae is a particularly interestingtarget for study, as it's the closest known protoplanetary disc toEarth, meaning that it provides one of our best opportunities to geta good look at how planets form. Located some 175 light-years away,the infant star is just 10 million years old and has a face-onorientation, meaning we can clearly view the structure from Earth.

Previous studies of the star confirmedthe presence of the planet-forming disc, but the new imagery fromALMA provides a much closer look, revealing the presence of gaps inthe material that strongly indicate the presence of infant planets,formed as particles came together and swept through the expanse of dust and gas.

The most intriguing of the gaps (pictured top right) is found at a similar distance to that of the Earth from the Sun – some 150 million km (93 million miles)
The most intriguing of the gaps (pictured top right) is found at a similar distance to that of the Earth from the Sun – some 150 million km (93 million miles)

The data was gathered by looking atradio emissions from the tiny, millimeter-sized particles of dust inthe disc. The project was possible thanks to wide separation ofALMA's dishes, which are as much as 15 km (9.3 miles) apart, providingextremely high spatial resolution.

The most intriguing of the gaps in the disc wasfound at a similar distance to that of the Earth from the Sun –some 150 million km (93 million miles) – indicating that the planet that formed it could have some properties similar to Earth. Other notable gaps inthe disc are located three and six billion kilometers fromthe star, putting the presumed planets in orbits similar to Uranusand Pluto.

Broadly speaking, the findings indicate that TW Hydraecould be fairly similar to our own solar system, only in an infantstate. Studying it in greater detail could well reveal new secretsabout how planets like Earth form. Looking forward, the researchers plan to scour thenight sky for similar planet-forming discs, looking to determine howcommon the features found around TW Hydrae are, and how they developover time, and are affected by different conditions.

The new observations aren't the firsttime that ALMA has turned its gaze towards the mysteries of planetformation. Back in 2015, it helped astronomers spot the fingerprints of huge planets sweeping through the clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars.

The research was published in theAstrophysical Journal Letters.

Source: ESO

3 comments
Bob Flint
At that distance it could already be polluted, already taken, and we have no chance of ever getting there except in your dreams...
Readout Noise
Bob, that planetary system hasn't even finished forming yet, so will be a long time before any fly-tipping alien race will get a chance to "take" and pollute it! The putative Earth-like object there would still be a ball of magma, constantly pummelled by incoming meteorites and asteroids as it accretes and clears out its orbit.
Road tar
At only 10 million years old, I'd bet NONE of those 3 possible objects will be in those orbits when the system is 1 billion years old. Other objects will form and unpredictable gravitational interactions will cause bombardments and collisions; resulting in orbital displacements, reforming of bodies, and various transfers of angular momentum. The headline is attention grabbing hokum.
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.