Nav: Home

Chaos in cosmos: Stars with three planet-forming discs of gas

October 11, 2016

A star with a ring of planets orbiting around it - that is the picture we know from our own solar system and from many of the thousands of exoplanets observed in recent years. But now researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have discovered a system consisting of two stars with three rotating planet-forming accretion discs around them. It is a binary star where each star has its own planet-forming disc and in addition, there is one large shared disc. All three planet-forming discs are misaligned in relation to one another. The spectacular results are published in the scientific journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters.

A solar system is formed by a large cloud of gas and dust. The cloud of gas and dust condenses and eventually becomes so compact that it collapses into a ball of gas in the centre. Here the pressure heats up the matter and creates a glowing ball of gas, a star. The remainder of the gas and dust cloud rotates as a disc around the newly formed star. In this rotating disc of gas and dust, the material begins to accumulate and form larger and larger clumps, which finally become planets.

Often it is not just one, but two stars that are formed in the dense cloud of gas and dust. This is called a binary star and they are held together by their mutual gravity and orbit in a path around each other. About half of all stars are binary stars and they can each have a rotating disc of gas and dust.

Never before seen

But now the researchers have observed something highly unusual: a binary star with not just two, but three rotating gas discs.

"The two newly formed stars are both the size of our sun and they each have a rotating disc of gas and dust similar to the size of our solar system. In addition, they have a shared disc that is much larger and crosses over the other two discs. All three discs are staggered and this breaks with everything we have seen so far," says Christian Brinch, assistant professor in the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science and the Niels Bohr International Academy at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

The stars were observed with the large international telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile by an international team of researchers from Denmark, England and the Netherlands. The stars are about 400 light years away from the Earth. The stars are about 100-200,000 years old and planet formation may already have started. They cannot see this. But when they can see the accretion discs, it is because they are still mostly made up of gases.

Tumble around

"What we can observe is the gas itself, because the molecules are excited by the heat from the stars and therefore emit light in the infrared and microwave range. By studying the wavelength of the light you can see whether the light source is moving farther away or is getting closer. If the light shifts towards red wavelengths it is moving farther away, while blue shift light is moving closer and thus we can see that the three planet-forming discs are almost 'tumbling around' and are skewed relative to each other," explains Christian Brinch.

The researchers do not know why it is not a 'nice' system where the rotating discs of gas lie flat in relation to each other. Perhaps the formation occurred in a particularly turbulent manner.

"We will use computer simulations to try to understand the physics of the formation process. Perhaps it is a dynamic process of formation, which happens often and then it corrects itself later on. We will try to clarify this. We will also apply for more observation time on the ALMA telescope to study the planet-forming discs in even higher resolution to get more detailed information about their chemical composition," says Jes Jørgensen, associate professor in the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute and Centre for Star and Planet Formation, University of Copenhagen.
-end-
Contact: Christian Brinch, Assistant professor in the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science and the Niels Bohr International Academy at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen. +45 5366-6442, brinch@nbi.ku.dk
Jes Jørgensen, Associate professor in the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute and Centre for Star and Planet Formation, University of Copenhagen. +45 4250-9970, jeskj@nbi.ku.dk

University of Copenhagen - Niels Bohr Institute

Related Solar System Articles:

From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
Plumbing a 90 million-year-old layer cake of sedimentary rock in Colorado, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University has found evidence confirming a critical theory of how the planets in our solar system behave in their orbits around the sun.
Why are there different 'flavors' of iron around the Solar System?
New work from Carnegie's Stephen Elardo and Anat Shahar shows that interactions between iron and nickel under the extreme pressures and temperatures similar to a planetary interior can help scientists understand the period in our Solar System's youth when planets were forming and their cores were created.
Does our solar system have an undiscovered planet? You can help astronomers find out
ASU's Adam Schneider and colleagues are hunting for runaway worlds in the space between stars, and citizen scientists can join the search with a new NASA-funded website.
Rare meteorites challenge our understanding of the solar system
Researchers have discovered minerals from 43 meteorites that landed on Earth 470 million years ago.
New evidence on the formation of the solar system
International research involving a Monash University scientist is using new computer models and evidence from meteorites to show that a low-mass supernova triggered the formation of our solar system.
Planet Nine could spell doom for solar system
The solar system could be thrown into disaster when the sun dies if the mysterious 'Planet Nine' exists, according to research from the University of Warwick.
Theft behind Planet 9 in our solar system
Through a computer-simulated study, astronomers at Lund University in Sweden show that it is highly likely that the so-called Planet 9 is an exoplanet.
Studying the solar system with NASA's Webb Telescope
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will look across vast distances to find the earliest stars and galaxies and study the atmospheres of mysterious worlds orbiting other stars.
'This solar system isn't big enough for the both of us.' -- Jupiter
It's like something out of an interplanetary chess game. Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in another planet's ejection from the Solar System altogether.
IBEX sheds new light on solar system boundary
In 14 papers published in the October 2015 Astrophysical Journal Supplement, scientists present findings from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, mission providing the most definitive analyses, theories and results about local interstellar space to date.

Related Solar System Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".