After generations of speculations, we’ve finally got the images that tell us the full story.
Some 4.5 billion years ago, our Sun and Solar System were born from a collapsing cloud of gas, likely alongside many other stars.
Over time, a protoplanetary disk forms, where imperfections will lead to young planets that eventually create full fledged solar systems.
The details of how that work, however, have varied wildly depending on which stars we look at.
Some stars, more massive than ours, show spiral shapes in their disks.
The more massive they are, the more likely they are to show this structure, consistent with a large, outer, structure-driving planet.
Others, lower in mass, show clear, symmetric rings.
Still others show a hybrid structure, where the rings exhibit some circularly-symmetric and some non-symmetric features.
Owing to a new instrument on a remarkable telescope, the ESO’s Very Large Telescope, we can now image protoplanetary disks directly.
The SPHERE instrument, optimized for infrared exoplanet research, includes the IRDIS imager, designed for high-resolution viewing.
When it looked at T Tauri stars, very young stars of 2 solar masses or less, here’s what it saw.
Regardless of age or mass, symmetric and well-defined rings, disks, and gaps exist around every one.
This should be exactly what our youthful Sun looked like.
Mostly Mute Monday tells the astronomical story of an image, object, class, or phenomenon in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.