ALMA Telescope Delivers Astonishing Image of Planet Formation

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disc around HL Tauri

ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Stars form within clouds of gas and dust as they collapse under gravity. Over time, the surrounding dust particles acquire icy mantles which stick them together, forming icy snowballs which gradually grow to form larger-size rocks. Due to the rotation of the gas around the newly forming star, the gas and dust is flung out into a thin “protoplanetary” disk where asteroids, comets, and planets form.

Here gravity collects the protoplanets together into clumps which grow larger, sweeping up all the other dust close to them as they orbit the new star. Once these planets leave gaps in the disc, seen as dark rings, and collect the dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.

Astronomers testing new high-resolution capabilities at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have recently captured the best image ever of planet formation around an infant star. This revolutionary new image reveals in astonishing detail the planet-forming disk surrounding HL Tau, a Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. Other astronomers had already discovered this system, but HL Tau is not observable in visible light because of the huge envelope of dust and gas which surrounds it.

But ALMA observes at much longer wavelengths than visible light, so it is able to see through the intervening dust to study the processes right at the core of this cloud. ALMA revealed never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star.

“This is truly one of the most remarkable images ever seen at these wavelengths. The level of detail is so exquisite that it’s even more impressive than many optical images. The fact that we can see planets being born will help us understand not only how planets form around other stars but also the origin of our own Solar System,” said NRAO astronomer Crystal Brogan.

“These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk,” said ALMA Deputy Director Stuartt Corder. “This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image.”

“This new and unexpected result provides an incredible view of the process of planet formation. Such clarity is essential to understand how our own Solar System came to be and how planets form throughout the Universe,” said Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia, which manages ALMA operations for astronomers in North America.


National Radio Astronomy Observatory


Tickets Available for Universe Story Event 2015

Tickets are now available for the Universe Story Event which will take place at 10:00 to 17:00 on Saturday 14 March 2015.


During the day delegates will hear the complete history of the universe, from its origin 13.8 billion years ago, through the creation of the stars, planets, our planet Earth, the evolution of life and finally our human story on this Earth.
They we also will see how they can align ourselves with the evolutionary processes for the benefit of all humans, all living beings and the planet itself.
And finally they will hear ways in which we can be empowered to ground the ideas in their everyday lives and help bring into being the ‘Ecozoic Era’.

The event will be held at:
City of London School for Girls
St. Giles’ Terrace
London, EC2Y 8BB


  • A brief history of everything, from the origin of the Universe to the present day, in six surprising steps by Greg Morter
  • The Evolution of Cooperation and Transformation by Elisabet Sahtouris
  • Transformational Heresy – permaculture and beyond by Maddy Harland

The event will be chaired by Chris Clarke, Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics and author of “Weaving the Cosmos”.

Other activities

  • World Café, ask questions and discuss ideas in informal groups.
  • Creative Activities, a chance to be creative, drawing inspiration from the Universe Story.
  • Stalls from participating organisations.

More information from


Tickets cost £43.05 and can be purchased from


The event is organised by Green Spirit (, which is
“a network of people who celebrate the human spirit in the context of our place in the natural world and Earth’s own evolutionary journey. Our radical vision brings together the rigour of science, the creativity of artistic expression, the passion of social action and the wisdom of spiritual traditions of all ages. Attracting those of many faith traditions, we are a body of people who believe that human life has both an ecological and a spiritual dimension.”

New fossils suggest mammals first appeared in the Late Triassic, 200 mya

Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals : Nature : Nature Publishing Group

The fossilized remains of mouse-sized tree-dwelling animals suggest that mammals first appeared in the Late Triassic, more than 200 million years ago, researchers report in Nature September 10, rather than in the Jurassic, which was the previous theory.

Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals : Nature : Nature Publishing Group.

More Evidence that Earliest Dinosaurs had Feathers!

A report in Science suggests that, contrary to previous ideas of the evolution of feathered birds from dinosaurs with scales, perhaps even the earliest dinosaurs might have had a mixture of feathers and scales.

The authors of the report (led by Dr Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Belgium) have found an neornithischian dinosaur from Siberia dating from the Jurassic (150 million years ago – mya). The creature, called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, was about 1m long, with a short snout, long hind legs, short arms, and five strong fingers.

This new data, when added to evidence of a different evolutionary line (the theropod group) in northeastern China dating from the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (170 – 150 mya) which had a mixture of scales and feathers, suggests that perhaps even the earliest dinosaurs (from Middle Triassic 250 mya) had feathers.

The discovery adds weight to the theory which has prevailed for years, that the earliest dinosaurs were feathered and warm blooded. Feathers were initially used for insulation and signalling, only later being adapted for flying.

Whatever Happened to Global Governance? by Professor Ngaire Woods

On Sun 31 Aug 2014 at 17:00 on BBC Radio 4, will broadcast “Whatever Happened to Global Governance?” by Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance at the University of Oxford. In fact, the program deals with economic global governance, which is not really the same as global governance, but it nevertheless raises interesting issues.

The following link might not work after the broadcast:

The programme carries the following explanation:

The way that countries cooperate with each other is changing, and in surprising ways. The old powers – the United States, Britain, Europe – used to hold the reins of how global issues were dealt with. Professor Ngaire Woods examines how a new playing field is emerging where newcomers – such as Brazil, Russia, India and China – are creating their own solutions.

Is old-style global governance fragmenting? In 1944, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, was the birthplace of the familiar international organisations that keep countries talking to each other. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank were created, followed by the United Nations and what went on to be the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They were a huge achievement – but 70 years on, are they fit for purpose?

The world’s smaller economies, such as in Africa, used to have to go cap in hand to Washington DC for answers. Now they have many other options. Professor Woods speaks to former chief economists of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz and Justin Yifu Lin, and former WTO director, Pascal Lamy, to find out why.

So as the old system fragments, how will the world solve its big issues, such as poverty, climate change, immigration and pandemics? And how will Britain negotiate this new terrain?

Producer: Dominic Byrne
A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4.

Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank focused on international governance. Led by experienced practitioners and distinguished academics, CIGI supports research, forms networks, advances policy debate and generates ideas for multilateral governance improvements. Conducting an active agenda of research, events and publications, CIGI’s interdisciplinary work includes collaboration with policy, business and academic communities around the world.

CIGI’s research programs focus on: global economy, global security & politics and international law. Founded in 2001, CIGI collaborates with several research affiliates and gratefully acknowledges support from a number of funding partners, in particular the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.

Evidence found for massive stars in the young universe

Astronomers have found evidence for the existence of very large stars in the early Universe. Weighing hundreds of times more than the mass of the Sun, such stars would have been the first to fuse hydrogen and helium into heavier elements. They left a chemical signature that the researchers have now found in an ancient, second-generation star.

Little is known about the Universe’s first stars, which would have formed out of clouds of hydrogen, helium and a tiny amount of lithium in the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

Simulations have long predicted that some of this first batch of stars were enormous. Such large stars only exist for a very short time before they exploded in supernovae, creating the first heavy elements from which later galaxies and stars evolved.

But no traces of their existence have previously been found. Now Professor Wako Aoki at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in Tokyo and his colleagues have used a technique called stellar archaeology to identify the first traces of such a star, preserved in the chemical make-up of its ancient long-lasting daughter.

The daughter star has a very low abundance of lighter elements, such as carbon, magnesium and calcium, relative to heavier elements such as iron. The most likely explanation for this signature is a type of explosion of the parent known as a “pair-instability supernova”

This type of supernova occurs when the temperature in the star’s core becomes so high that pairs of photons turn into pairs of electrons and positrons. The resulting fall in outward pressure causes the star to collapse dramatically, setting off a huge thermonuclear explosion. This would tear the whole star apart and produce the high levels of iron relative to lighter elements that Aoki’s team found.

Lower-energy supernovae, which result when normal, lower mass stars explode, create very little iron compared to lighter elements because, although the outer layer is blown away, heavier elements get sucked back into the core, forming a black hole. Most of the iron in the universe was created not in supernovae but in red giants, the phase at the end of most stars’ lives.


Hallucigenia finally comes down to find it’s nearest relative

photo of a Hallucigenia

A specimen photo of a Hallucigenia sparsa from the collections of the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution. Photo by C. Clark

Hallucigenia sparsa, a strange creature that walked the seas 500 million years ago, may have finally found its family.

With its dorsal spines and a head easily confused with its tail, this wormlike animal baffled scientists for nearly 40 years—largely because no living animals seemed to be related to it.

Velvet worm

Velvet worm

But Martin Smith, Junior Research Fellow, Department of Earth Science, and other researchers from the University of Cambridge have shown that Hallucigenia has something odd in common with today’s velvet worms.

Its claws, like velvet worms’ jaws, are made up of cuticle layers stacked inside one another, they report online this week in Nature. That means Hallucigenia is likely the velvet worm’s great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandmother.


Velvet worm image from,_mirror.png

The “Azolla Event” Helped Start the Current Glacial Period

50 million years ago during the Eocene, the Earth was much hotter than it is now, with levels of greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere far higher than today. There was very little ice on the Earth at that time, and a tiny fresh-water plant called Azolla was able to flourish around the edges of the Arctic Ocean. Many scientists believe that there was so much Azolla drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that it caused the climate to cool. This so-called “Azolla Event”, along with other factors such as mountain building and changes in ocean currents, led the start of the glacial period in which we are still living.

Photograph by Ingrid Taylar

Photograph by Ingrid Taylar

Azolla is a tiny fern which contains a symbiotic cyanobacterium within its leaves which fixes nitrogen so efficiently that the plant is able to double in mass every 24 hours. This can cause problems in rivers, but some people (for example the Azolla Foundation – see links below) think that it could be used both as a source of food for animals and as a way of sequestering carbon dioxide from today’s atmosphere and so helping to reduce global warming.