Spitzer discovers young stars with a 'hula hoop'

Jul 31, 2013
In this artist's impression, a disk of dusty material leftover from star formation girds two young stars like a hula hoop. As the two stars whirl around each other, they periodically peek out from the disk, making the system appear to "blink" every 93 days. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) —Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have spotted a young stellar system that "blinks" every 93 days. Called YLW 16A, the system likely consists of three developing stars, two of which are surrounded by a disk of material left over from the star-formation process.

As the two inner stars whirl around each other, they periodically peek out from the disk that girds them like a hula hoop. The hoop itself appears to be misaligned from the pair, probably due to the disrupting gravitational presence of the third star orbiting at the periphery of the system. The whole system cycles through bright and faint phases, with the central stars playing a sort of cosmic peek-a-boo as the tilted disk twirls around them. It is believed that this disk should go on to spawn planets and the other celestial bodies that make up a solar system.

Spitzer observed from YLW 16A, emitted by the warmed gas and dust in the disk that still swathes the young stars. Other observations came from the ground-based 2MASS survey, as well as from the NACO instrument at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile.

YLW 16A is the fourth example of a star system known to blink in such a manner, and the second in the same star-forming region Rho Ophiuchus. The finding suggests that these systems might be more common than once thought. Blinking star systems with warped disks offer scientists a way to study how planets form in these environments. The planets can one or both of the stars in the . The famous science fictional planet Tatooine in "Star Wars" orbits two stars, hence its double sunsets. Such worlds are referred to as circumbinary planets. Astronomers can record how light is absorbed by planet-forming disks during the bright and faint phases of blinking stellar systems, which in turn reveals information about the materials that comprise the disk.

"These blinking systems offer natural probes of the binary and circumbinary planet formation process," said Peter Plavchan, a scientist at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute and Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., and lead author of a new paper accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Explore further: New simulation shows disk anomalies around stars may not be planets after all

More information: arxiv.org/abs/1304.2398

Related Stories

Solar system's youth gives clues to planet search

Jul 24, 2013

Comets and meteorites contain clues to our solar system's earliest days. But some of the findings are puzzle pieces that don't seem to fit well together. A new set of theoretical models from Carnegie's Alan Boss shows how ...

Herschel finds past-prime star may be making planets

Jan 30, 2013

(Phys.org)—A star thought to have passed the age at which it can form planets may, in fact, be creating new worlds. The disk of material surrounding the surprising star called TW Hydrae may be massive enough ...

Stars don't obliterate their planets (very often)

Jun 06, 2013

(Phys.org) —Stars have an alluring pull on planets, especially those in a class called hot Jupiters, which are gas giants that form farther from their stars before migrating inward and heating up.

Astronomers discover a rare stellar disk of quartz dust

May 05, 2012

A research team of Japanese astronomers led by Dr. Hideaki Fujiwara (Subaru Telescope) has discovered a main-sequence star that is surrounded by a rare disk of quartz dust. Collisions of planetesimals, building ...

Recommended for you

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

Apr 18, 2014

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Apr 18, 2014

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.