Sep 3, 2020 - Science

Scientists spot surprising star system 1,300 light-years away

A planetary disk forming around 3 stars

Artist's illustration of the strange star system (left), actual photo (R). Image: ESO/L. Calçada, Exeter/Kraus et al.

Three stars are ripping apart a potentially planet-forming disc of gas and dust 1,300 light-years from Earth.

Why it matters: The star system could help scientists learn more about how some of the strangest systems of planets and stars form in the galaxy.

Details: Researchers observed the star system — named GW Orionis — for about 11 years. They found the three stars have warped the disc, which has tilted rings, according to a new study in the journal Science this week.

  • Scientists have found evidence of warped discs before, but this is the first time they've directly linked the shape and structure of a disc of this kind to stars inside them.

The big picture: Understanding the structure of the disc could one day help scientists spot planets circling other stars that may have formed from warped discs as well.

  • And GW Orionis may be capable of hosting planets. The inner dust ring of the stars contains about 30 times the mass of the Earth and may be capable of forming planets one day.
  • "Any planets formed within the misaligned ring will orbit the star on highly oblique orbits and we predict that many planets on oblique, wide-separation orbits will be discovered in future planet imaging campaigns," study co-author Alexander Kreplin said in a statement.

Context: Unlike this star system, the planets of our solar system formed from a flat plane of dust and debris circling the Sun.

  • Planetary systems that arise from interactions like those happening in GW Orionis could even look like Tatooine planets — which orbit two stars — or other strange worlds that, until now, have had origins that defy explanations.
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