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Amazing Discovery: ALMA Observes Formation of New Solar System 450 Light-Years Away

Dec 15, 2016 06:47 AM EST
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Researchers using Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) Observatory were able to observe the early stages in the formation of a new solar system.

Their observation, published in the journal Nature, showed for the first time how the so-called jets, or the powerful emanations of whirlwinds and outflows, formed and shoot out from the remains of gas and dust rotating around the young star.

"Using the ALMA telescopes, we have observed a protostar at a very early stage. We see how the wind, like a tornado, lifts material and gas up from the rotary disc, which is in the process of forming a new solar system," said Per Bjerkeli, a postdoc in Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, in a press release.

For the study, the researchers used the powerful ALMA telescope to observe the protostar located about 450 light years away, which is equivalent to 30 million times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Previously, astronomers thought that the rotating wind surrounding the protostar originated from the center of the rotating disc of gas and dust. However, new observations showed that the rotating wind actually formed across the entire disc, not only at the center. As the wind rotates together with the disc, it moves away from the protostar. The rotational wind that is moving away takes part of the rotational energy with it, slowing the rotation as the dust and gas close to the star continue to contract.

The slowed rotation speed is necessary for the formation of solar system. As the rotation speed of the cloud surrounding the star slows down, the materials in the dust and gas disc accumulate and form planets.

With these findings, the researchers are hoping to further understand the process behind the formation of solar systems. The researchers want to find out if the materials released by the rotating wind are completely blown away from the protostar or whether it falls back onto the disc at some point and becomes part of planet-making process.

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