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An artist's impression of a planetary nursery, in which growing planets etch rings in the disk of dust and gas around a young star.Credit: ESO/L. Calçada Some 100,000 years ago, when Neanderthals still occupied the caves of southern Europe, a star was born. It appeared when a ball of gas collapsed and ignited within a stellar factory known as the Taurus Molecular Cloud. Then, leftover material began to cool and coalesce around it, forming dust grains and a hazy envelope of gas. In September 2014, some of the light from that hot young star and its surroundings landed inside 66 silvery parabolas perched on a plateau in Chile's Atacama desert - the driest on Earth. The photons had taken 450 years to make the journey. Astronomers were waiting. They were conducting a test of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which features radio antennas separated by distances of up to 15 kilometres. With such long spans between them, the antennas work as a high-resolution...