New Planets Might Be Hiding in the Strange Disks Around Distant Stars

Every planet has to start somewhere. In some cases, it all begins in the rings of dust around stars several light-years away.

New pictures collected by the SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope show these mysterious disks at their best. Two subsequent studies about these stars, set to be published in The Astrophysical Journal and Astronomy & Astrophysics respectively, analyze a class of stars collectively called T Tauri. These are relatively “young” stars, less than 10 million-years-old. The dusty disks around these stars harbor planetismals, which are essentially baby planets, the ESO reports.

The stars, located between 230 to 550 light-years away, create some seriously distinct shapes. Some are oddly reminiscent of that old Windows Media Player visualization called “Dance of the Freaky Circles.” Please tell me someone caught that reference.

According to the ESO, it’s difficult to get good snapshots of the disks since they don’t reflect a ton of light, but thankfully, SPHERE seems to have done its job. Look at this spooky little things!

Disks around T Tauri stars
Disks around T Tauri stars

It’s possible these strange circles could clue us into what our solar system might have looked like when it was young. Even though these stars are located hundreds of light-years away, further analysis could show these gaseous disks are more familiar than we think.

“This SPHERE observation is the discovery of an edge-on disc around the star GSC 07396-00759, which is a member of a multiple star system included in the DARTTS-S sample,” the ESO reports, in reference to one of the images featured below. “Oddly, this new disc appears to be more evolved than the gas-rich disc around the T Tauri star in the same system, although they are the same age.”

Star GSC 07396-00759
Star GSC 07396-00759

There’s something oddly calming about these glowing objects in the vacuum of space. Feel free to gaze into their infinite abyss.

Media via ESO/H. Avenhaus et al./E. Sissa et al./DARTT-S and SHINE collaborations, ESO/E. Sissa et al., ESO/H. Avenhaus et al./DARTT-S collaboration