'Captain, There Be Planets Here!'

November 22, 2014 3:06 AM

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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 Hubble Space Telescope, are very young stars called HL Tau and XZ Tau, each no more than 1 million years old, give or take. You can easily see the nebulae formed by the complex blobs of gas ejected by the young stars.

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...

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