Astronomers Spot Spiral Arms Around A Young Star For The First Time

Posted: Oct 2 2016, 11:45am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 2 2016, 11:58am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Astronomers Spot Spiral Arms Around a Young Star for the First Time
Credit: ALMA and MPIfR

Researchers obtain the first image of a newbron star with spiral arms

For the first time, an international team of astronomers has spotted a young star with spiral features. 

Spiral arms of gas and dust are usually observed on the surfaces of the disk surrounding a star but this is the first evidence of spiral arms swirling at a region of disk where planet formation takes place. The discovery is important for astronomical perspective and can provide more clues to how planets are formed.

Young stars are encircled by the disks made out of gas and dust. These circumstellar or protoplanetary disks are the birthplaces of planets. As the disk spins, it releases material which begin to stick together and eventually the small clumps of matter turn into larger masses or planetary systems.

Until now, researchers have detected spiral arms around stars only during the later stages of protoplanetary disks or when the planets are already formed. But this is the first time have spotted such arms around a relatively young star, during the early stages of its life.

The young star, called Elias 2-27, is located at a distance of about 450 light years from the Earth and was detected using ALMA observatory in Chile. Since the young star is already exhibiting spiral features, it could indicate the presence of a newly formed planet or a planet which is about to form. Either ways it can shed more light into the early evolution of planets, including our own solar system. 

Thanks to ALMA, researchers have been able to examine this young star Elias 2-27 which is a part of a much larger star-froming region called ρ-Ophiuchi. The young star is estimated to have formed about a million years ago, a  very short time in cosmic terms. The star already has a protoplanetary disk which is linked to the formation of planetary systems.

“Finally, we see the disks around young stars in all their beauty and diversity – and now this includes seeing spiral structures,” said co-author Thomas Henning from Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA). “These observations will be a greater help in understanding the formation of planets.”

There’s been a lot of recent talk and excitement over the discoveries of great variety of exoplanets. To understand their diversity, researchers need to understand how these planets came into being. The latest observations by ALMA could provide crucial information about the various mechanisms at work in protoplanetary disks. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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