Congratulations TW Hydra, it’s a Planet!
This week saw some radical new discoveries in the origins of our own solar system. For the first time, scientists can actually study the size and shape of a close protoplanetary disk. Yeah, I know it sounds boring to begin with, but the truth is it’s really cool.
A protoplanetary disk is a ring of dust and gas that forms around a new star, in this case TW Hydrae, a star in the constellation Hydra, only 176 light years away. You can see this constellation tonight! This disk is where new planets form. Our whole solar system came from a ring like this, and now there’s actually one happening nearby. So this means that astronomers are getting close to watching the birth of a new planet. In fact, based on new observations from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, there is enough mass in the disk for 52 planets the size of Jupiter! So stay tuned, because any day now, there might be a brand new planet only a few light years away from Earth. To be honest, it’s not sure when the planet will form, but it might look a little like this:
As you can see in the image to the left, this isn’t the first protoplanetary disk astronomers have discovered- HH-30 on the left was observed by the Hubble Telescope in 1996. However, part of the reason that TW Hydrae is so exciting is not only because it is so close, but also because a new technology at the Herschel Space Telescope allows astronomers to observe the composition of the rings.
So you can see that this could be the start of something big; a chance to see the foundations of our solar system through observing this young sun. Stay tuned!!!