A revolutionary ALMA image revealed the disc of material left over from the birth of a star in stunning detail.

To make their findings, researchers pointed the ALMA antennas at the young star HL Tauri, which is located about 450 light-years away; the surprising image revealed the object's concentric bright rings, separated by gaps. The European Southern Observatory reported. The features are believed to be the result of planet-like bodies being formed in the disc, which is surprising because stars as young as HL Tauri are not expected to host large planetary bodies.

"When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail. HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will [revolutionize] theories of planet formation," said Catherine Vlahakis, ALMA Deputy Program Scientist and Lead Program Scientist for the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign.

Young stars such as this one are born in clouds of gas and fine dust in regions where gravitation has caused a collapse, leading to hot, dense cores that eventually develop into stars. These young stars are usually "cocooned" in the remaining gas and dust, which later becomes a planet-forming disc.

In this disc, collisions will cause particles to clump together, eventually forming into asteroids, comets, and planets. Young planets will disrupt the disc and create rings, gaps, and holes such as what is seen in the fascinating photograph above. These observations could help researchers gain insight into how our own solar system and planet formed.

"Most of what we know about planet formation today is based on theory. Images with this level of detail have up to now been relegated to computer simulations or artist's impressions. This high resolution image of HL Tauri demonstrates what ALMA can achieve when it operates in its largest configuration and starts a new era in our exploration of the formation of stars and planets," said Tim de Zeeuw, Director General of ESO.