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: Planck: Gravitational waves remain elusive

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

Planck: Gravitational waves remain elusive

Jan 30, 2015

Despite earlier reports of a possible detection, a joint analysis of data from ESA's Planck satellite and the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments has found no conclusive evidence of primordial ...

What's happening in the universe right now?

Jan 30, 2015

There are some topics that get a little frustrating in their pedantry, but can really draw attention to the grand scope and mechanics in our Universe. This is definitely one of them.

The tell-tale signs of a galactic merger

Jan 29, 2015

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this striking view of spiral galaxy NGC 7714. This galaxy has drifted too close to another nearby galaxy and the dramatic interaction has twisted its spiral ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.