Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2001 March 2
Explanation: You'd need a really big cup of coffee with this doughnut ... because the hole in the middle is about a billion kilometres across. Centred on the Sun, a circle that size would lie between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. In fact, this doughnut is known to surround a massive newborn star catalogued as LkHa 101 which lies in the constellation Perseus. Imaged in infrared light, the tantalizing torus-shaped cloud of gas and dust is slightly tilted to our view. The cloud's material may well be the ingredients for the formation of a distant solar system. A bright source of ultraviolet light, the hot young star itself is much fainter in the infrared and so not visible in this picture. Still, the star's presence is indicated as its intense stellar wind and radiation has apparently carved out the doughnut's hole. This premier close-up of a stellar system in formation was accomplished by adapting a powerful observational technique called interferometry to planet Earth's largest single mirror telescope, the 10 metre Keck.
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.