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Over the last two decades the discovery of planets outside our solar systems has enabled researchers to study how planetary systems form - the major question within the field of astronomy today. These planetary systems and the respective planets vary significantly from each other. In order to understand how these differences come about, the research presented in this video goes back to the birth sites of planets and investigates how they form out of the gas and dust in the disk of young stars. THOMAS HENNING explains that, due to the small nature of the objects and the low mass of the disks, the researchers employed two complementary telescope technologies to reach the necessary spatial resolution and sensitivity. Combining this with numerical simulations and laboratory experiments, the research team was able to observe the growth process of planets and characterize the chemical composition of the disks. The results indicate that the variety in the molecular content of the disks triggers diverse planet properties.


Thomas Henning is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, where he heads the Planetary and Star Formation Department. He is also Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Jena as well as Honorary Professor at the University of Heidelberg. Henning’s research is dedicated to the understanding of how stars and planets form; to this end he employs a variety of methods reaching from infrared observations to laboratory experiments. Henning established the Heidelberg Origins of Life Initiative (HIFOL) and is a Co-Investigator of major instrumentation projects such as MIRI for the James Webb Space Telescope. He has been a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 1999. In 2009, the asteroid 30882 was named "Tomhenning" in his honour.


Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

At the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), we investigate the cosmos, its structure, and evolution at all spatial scales. Some of the questions the astronomers try to answer are: How did the first galaxies and stars form and evolve? What is the role of black holes in the evolution of galaxies and the interstellar medium from which new stars are born? What conditions and processes lead to the birth of new stars? How do planets form? What kind of planets are out there, and are there any of them potentially sustaining life? How did life evolve on Earth? The scientists’ expertise comprises disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. For their research, MPIA astronomers employ observations with telescopes, computers to model complex systems and processes, and lab experiments to mimic chemical reactions in space. The MPIA, founded in 1969, is part of the Max Planck Society. MPIA scientists use state-of-the-art research facilities worldwide, both on the ground and in space, to which the institute supplies instrumentation like cameras and spectrographs. Over the years, MPIA’s engineers have acquired unique and valuable experience building instrumentation for telescopes, which is highly demanded by numerous domestic and international partners.

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Original publication

The VLA View of the HL Tau Disk: Disk Mass, Grain Evolution, and Early Planet Formation

others, Henning Thomas, Linz Hendrik, Carrasco-González Carlos, Chandler Claire J., Pérez Laura, Rodríguez Luis F., Galván-Madrid Roberto, Anglada Guillem, Birnstiel Til and van Boekel Roy
The Astrophysical Journal Letters
Published in 2016