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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.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Dec 8, 2020 - Science

The golden age of space-sample returns

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Multiple space missions by different countries are bringing rock samples back to Earth from far-off worlds — a trend that could redefine our understanding of the evolution of the solar system.

Driving the news: China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft is bound for Earth and loaded down with Moon rocks expected to be far younger than those brought back during the Apollo missions. Those samples are expected to arrive in mid-December.

Updated 14 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 17 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.