How is Planet Formed?

Beautiful Images Show Planets Starting to Form

We've never seen a planet being formed in this much detail.

5. 1. 20 by Victor Tangermann
Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech

An international team of astronomers has managed to capture some extraordinarily rare images of planetary systems being born, hundreds of light-years away.

While we’ve seen images of “protoplanetary disks” before, we’ve never seen the process captured in such detail.

Kluska et al.

“In [earlier] pictures, the regions close to the star, where rocky planets form, are covered by only few pixels,” lead author Jacques Kluska, from KU Leuven in Belgium, said in a statement.

The images show the inner areas around young stars where planets start taking shape, accumulating matter from dust and gas. Dust grains build up into larger rocks, some of which eventually grow into entire rocky planets.


“We needed to visualize these details to be able to identify patterns that might betray planet formation and to characterize the properties of the disks,” Kluska said.

The researchers had to use a relatively new imaging technique called infrared interferometry at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile to capture the images.

The technique doesn’t produce an image directly. Using mathematical models — not unlike the way the first-ever images of a black hole were created — the team was able to separate the disks from the light emitted by the star itself.

The level of detail of the new images is astonishing.


“Distinguishing details at the scale of the orbits of rocky planets like Earth or Jupiter (as you can see in the images) — a fraction of the Earth-Sun distance — is equivalent to being able to see a human on the Moon, or to distinguish a hair at a 10 km distance,” Jean-Philippe Berger, principal investigator from the Université Grenoble-Alpes, France, explained in the statement.

So what did they end up seeing in the new images? Brighter and darker spots of light could be a sign that “there could be instabilities in the disk that can lead to vortices where the disk accumulates grains of space dust that can grow and evolve into a planet,” according to Kluska.

READ MORE: The Before Times of a Solar System [The Atlantic]



Care about supporting clean energy adoption? Find out how much money (and planet!) you could save by switching to solar power at By signing up through this link, may receive a small commission.

Share This Article

Keep up.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter to keep in touch with the subjects shaping our future.
I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its User Agreement and Privacy Policy


Copyright ©, Camden Media Inc All Rights Reserved. See our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Data Use Policy. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Futurism. Fonts by Typekit and Monotype.