SPHERE offers sampling of disk diversity surrounding nearby, young stars

April 11 (UPI) — New images by the Very Large Telescope’s SPHERE instrument has offered astronomers a sampling of the diversity of dusty disks found around young stars in the nearby universe.

The SPHERE instrument is capable of dimming the light from neighboring stars in order to enhance the brightness of nearby stellar targets. The ability has allowed SPHERE to survey stars and their surroundings in great detail, despite the light noise of the crowded nearby universe.

“It is very challenging to obtain good images of the faint reflected light from discs, since they are outshone by the dazzling light of their parent stars,” astronomers with the European Southern Observatory wrote in a news release.

The survey — detailed in two new scientific papers — has revealed the wide range of dusty structures found around relatively young stars within 230 to 550 light-years from Earth.

As the latest sampling of SPHERE images reveals, dusty disks can take on a wide variety of shapes and brightness — small disks, big disks, bright disks, dull disks. Some disks look like yo-yos, while others look like firecrackers.

The majority of the stars surveyed by SPHERE are T Tauri stars, younger than 10 million years old. The disks surrounding this young stars are composed of gas, dust and planetesimals, the makings of young planets.

“These images also show what our own solar system may have looked like in the early stages of its formation, more than four billion years ago,” researchers wrote.