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Dusty Doughnuts from your Local Cosmic Café

2 Aug 2021, 13:43 UTC
Dusty Doughnuts from your Local Cosmic Café
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

On a clear dark night, the plane of our Galaxy can be seen arching overhead, filled with bright stars and dark clouds of dust. These dark clouds are nebulae, which provide the material for new stars to form by gravitational collapse. Such a collapse produces a young star surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust in which new planets are forming. Observing such disks is incredibly challenging – they are roughly the size of a donut viewed from 10 miles away, and their dust grains mostly emit radio waves invisible to the human eye. However, the 66 antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) can provide the powerful magnification and sensitivity astronomers need to observe their structures. This gallery shows 37 images of such dust disks around nearby young stars observed by ALMA. The beautiful variety of gaps, rings, and arcs are thought to be caused by unseen young planets sculpting the dust in the disk along their orbits. By studying these dust structures, astronomers learn how and when planets form and gain insight into the origins of our own solar system — Logan Francis.

It’s not often that a scientist explains a complicated astrophysical observation to ...

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