Over the past two and half centuries, scientists envisioning the origin of planetary systems (including our own) have focused on a specific scene: a spinning disk around a newborn star, sculpting planets out of gas and dust like clay on a potter’s wheel.
But as for testing the idea, by actually spotting an exoplanet coalesce from swirling matter? No luck yet. “Nowadays, everybody says planets form in protoplanetary disks,” said Ruobing Dong, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona.“This sentence is, technically, a theoretical statement.”
Advances over the past few years suggest it won’t stay theoretical for long. Using second-generation instruments mounted on giant ground-based telescopes, several teams have finally resolved the inner regions of a few protoplanetary disks, uncovering unexpected, enigmatic patterns.
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