ALMA telescope spots birth of a planet in ‘milestone’ discovery

Using the ALMA radio telescope in Chile, astronomers were able to capture the formation of a new planet, and scientists are observing it happen more clearly than ever before. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Tucked away in the constellation Taurus in distance space, planets are being born. How do we know? Because scientists are observing it happen more clearly than ever before.

    Using the ALMA radio telescope in Chile, astronomers were able to capture this image showing a star surrounded by a large disc made of gas and dust.

    It may look like an artist's illustration, but in fact, at the center of this image is the real HL Tauri star. And the dark rings, that's believed to be the dust and gas coming together to form planets, meteors and asteroids.

    HL Tauri is 450 lightyears from earth, and even though it's amost one million years old, astronomers consider it quite young.

    For decades, astronomers have known the existence of the star but have never been able to see it clearly.

    But now, high up in Chile's Atacama Desert, these antennae are using radio frequencies to gather emissions from gas, dust and stars to make high-resolution images of the universe; images even sharper than some of those taken from space by NASA's Hubble telescope.

    The findings have shaken astronomers' theories.

  • STUARTT CORDER, ALMA Deputy Director:

    So, even at this young age, ALMA has discovered that we already have large, planetary cores forming, so the process of planet formation has to occur much faster and much earlier than we had ever expected.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The new picture has gotten scientists excited about the possibilities of the telescope.

  • PIERRE COX, ALMA Director:

    Image and discovery represent a milestone in the history of ALMA and it's a dream that's come true. I mean, people have thought about it for 20 years and now we see it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    With the new image displaying detail never before seen, astronomers are now hoping to expand our understanding of how planets form, both within and outside our own solar system.

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