ESO/NAOJ/NRAO

Stare deep into the eye of this planetary disk because something is forming in thereā€”something incredible.

This photo of star TW Hydrae from the ALMA Observatory is the most detailed shot of a protoplanetary disk ever captured. Itā€™s not the star or the disk around it that has scientists really excited, though. Itā€™s the gaps, particularly one familiar one which shows a planet forming at exactly the orbiting distance between the Earth and the Sun.

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ESO/NAOJ/NRAO

ā€œThe new ALMA images show the disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there,ā€ explains lead author of the paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters, Sean Andrews of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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ALMA Observatory describes the still forming structure as being consistent with either ā€œan infant version of our home planetā€ or perhaps a larger ā€œsuper-Earthā€ version. Of course, planet formation is slow, uncertain business and itā€™s not clear yet precisely what kind of planet will eventually emerge from the dust.

Still, in a universe of countless cold, dead planets, itā€™s just-right position around a star makes it a potential planet with incredible possibilities for study, for research, and perhaps even, someday in the far distant future, for life. And thatā€™s worth keeping an eye on.

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