Sep 29, 2020 - Science

Scientists discover 2 newborn stars encased in table salt

IRAS 16547-4247, a binary star system. Photo: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Tanaka et al.
IRAS 16547-4247, a binary star system. Photo: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Tanaka et al.

A pair of newborn stars are enveloped in water vapor and sodium chloride — otherwise known as table salt — according to new data from the ALMA telescope in Chile.

Why it matters: Scientists are always looking to piece together new details of how star systems form, and the detection of salt in this binary star system could help researchers figure out how baby stars grow.

The state of play: The binary system, called IRAS 16547-4247, is about 9,500 light-years from Earth, and the stars' combined mass is about 25 times the Sun's.

  • This marks the second time scientists have seen table salt in the soup around huge young stars.
  • "The first example was around Orion KL Source I, but that is such a peculiar source that we were not sure whether salt is suitable to see gas disks around massive stars. Our results confirmed that salt is actually a good marker," Kei Tanaka, who led the team that found the table salt signal, said in a statement.

The big picture: The pair of stars, which appear to orbit in two different directions, may have actually formed separately and then met up later in life.

  • Most huge stars that scientists have seen in the universe have companions, so learning more about the specifics of how these types of systems form could inform their understanding of the origins of these stars.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to study these systems with water vapor and table salt to possibly learn more about how our solar system — which is also rich in water vapor and sodium chloride — formed in its early days.
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