Back in the day, when I worked on supporting astronomers’ Hubble observations, one of my favorite projects was one involving observing very young stars. These stars, just a few million years old, were still surrounded by a swirling disk of gas and dust which, at the time, we assumed were forming planets.
These observations were cutting edge, and were giving us our first glimpses at these disks in detail. I worked hard to write software that allowed the team to analyze the shape of the disks and the way they reflected their star’s light, all to learn more about the process of planetary formation in its earliest stages.
That wasn’t all that long ago, but oh my, how things have changed. These days, we get images of protoplanetary disks that look like this: