Using infrared interferometry and some additional mathematical reconstruction technique, astronomer Jacques Kluska, from KU Leuven in Belgium, led an international team to obtain 15 amazing pictures of a presumably planetary disk of dust and gas around a star. It is the closest we’ve evet got to see these events in such details.
Interferometry is a technique that extracts information from the interference caused by superimposed waves. An astronomical interferometer is a telescope divided into separate working together telescopes, mirror segments, or radio telescope antennas. The mean of such an array is to use interferometry to provide higher resolution images of astronomical objects.
In his research, Kluska used the technique to take the closest look possible to some inner rims of planet-forming disks. Let’s not forget that even the closest objects are located at hundreds of light-years away.
Scientists snapped a protoplanetary disk
“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,” said the author.
With the additional help given by the mathematical reconstruction technique, the pictures turned out to be pretty sharp. And the apparent lack of pixels in them are, in fact, the exact things the team was looking for: planets becoming, well, planets. Inside the disks, the material accreting into a newborn planet creates a sort of vortex, a hole that absorbs the material.
The irregularities aren’t scientifically confirmed to be that yet, but further research will hopefully prove them to be so. And the team intends to do just that.
“You can see that some spots are brighter or less bright, like in the images above: this hints at processes that can lead to planet formation. For example, 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,” said Kluska on the recently observed protoplanetary disk.