Astronomers using the ALMA Observatory have discovered an unusual, massive star near the center of our galaxy, a star that has two spiral arms. The arms are part of an accretion disk, a broad disk of dust and gas surrounding the protostar. While this is not the first star to be seen with such rare arm-like features, researchers say they believe they can track the formation of the spiral arms to a close encounter the star had with another object.Continue reading “A Star has Grown Spiral Arms”
Huge disks of dust and gas encircle many young stars. Some contain circular gaps — likely the result of forming planets carving out cavities along their orbital paths — that make the disks look more like ripples in a pond than flat pancakes.
But astronomers know only a few examples, including the archetypal disk surrounding Beta Pictoris, of this transitional stage between the original disk and the young planetary system. And they have never spotted a forming planet.
Two independent research teams think they’ve observed precisely this around the star HD 169142, a young star with a disk that extends up to 250 astronomical units (AU), roughly six times greater than the average distance from the Sun to Pluto.
Mayra Osorio from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain and colleagues first explored HD 169142’s disk with the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico. The 27 radio dishes configured in a Y-shape allowed the team to detect centimeter-sized dust grains. Then combining their results with infrared data, which traces the presence of microscopic dust, the group was able to see two gaps in the disk.
One gap is located between 0.7 and 20 AU, and the second larger gap is located between 30 and 70 AU. In our Solar System the first would begin at the orbit of Venus and end at the orbit of Uranus, while the second would begin at the orbit of Neptune, pass Pluto’s orbit, and extend beyond.
“This structure already suggested that the disk was being modified by two planets or sub-stellar objects, but, additionally, the radio data reveal the existence of a clump of material within the external gap, located approximately at the distance of Neptune’s orbit, which points to the existence of a forming planet,” said Mayra Osorio in a news release.
Maddalena Reggiani from the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich and colleagues then tried to search for infrared sources in the gaps using the Very Large Telescope. They found a bright signal in the inner gap, which likely corresponds to a forming planet or a young brown dwarf, an object that isn’t massive enough to kick start nuclear fusion.
The team was unable to confirm an object in the second gap, likely due to technical limitations. Any object with a mass less than 18 times Jupiter’s mass will remain hidden in the data.
Future observations will shed more light on the exotic system, hopefully allowing astronomers to better understand how planets first form around young stars.
Both papers have been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.