About 450 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Taurus, a dense, dark, interstellar cloud has slowly started to reveal its secrets. It happens to be a very active nursery for young stars resembling our own sun about 4.6 billion years ago. Embedded in this cloud, which has been carefully studied by the
HL Tauri and surroundings (credit: NASA/HST)
The star HL Tau (more properly called HL Tauri) is 10,000 times too faint for you to see with your naked eye. Even a large telescope has a hard time seeing it clearly through all the dust and gas blocking the view. But other kinds of telescopes can easily pierce the light-years of dust clouds. Since 1975, astronomers had known that HL Tau had some kind of disk of gas orbiting it. The disk is about 40 times the diameter of our solar system. Later on, astronomers studied HL Tau using radio telescopes and detected a dense knot of carbon monoxide molecules centered on the star. Caltech astronomers Anneila Sargent and Steven Beckwith were able to study this clump in more detail and discovered it really was a disk-like region rotating in the same way that planets orbit our sun: faster toward the
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