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A dust-containing disc around a young star

In this animation, we focus on the disc around a young star. This disc is the result of the collapse of a cloud of dust and gas – a process that takes place over a relatively short timescale (for astronomers) of just 10,000-100,000 years. In these early stages the light from the star is completely blocked by the thick dust, but the disc can be observed at longer wavelengths – for example, using the ALMA telescope. With closer examination, we observe that the disc is comprised of a myriad of small particles of dust. These dust particles can serve as the first building blocks for new planets, as they merge into larger and larger bodies as time progresses.

Many important physical and chemical processes take place in these stages. Many of the molecules present in the gas in the disc condense on the surface of the dust particles, which then get caps of ice. Organic molecules could form in these ice caps and at some point could end up on planet like our own Earth and have some of the basic building blocks for the processes that could ultimately lead to life as we know it. With the ALMA telescope astronomers will study the chemical link between the dust and these organic molecules in such proto-planetary discs.