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Astronomers Discover Forming Solar System With Spiral Arms

Oct 04, 2016 06:16 AM EDT
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Spiral arms were discovered surrounding a forming star and nearby forming planets.
(Photo : Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A forming star is a normal sight for astronomers but in a rare occasion, the ALMA observatory located in Chile captured an image of a young protoplanetary disk like Milky Way but with visible spiral arms.

The Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has observed the spiral arms surrounding young star Elias 2-27. Although similar patterns have been observed before, this is the first time it is identified inside the disk in the region where planets are forming.

The arms or the spinal structures are a distinct feature not limited to galaxies anymore but now even forming Solar Systems exhibit the same formation. Aside from being a stunning sight to see, these structures may help astronomers understand the origin and formation of planets, according to Gizmodo.

The spiral arms identified by ALMA originates from a new star called Elias 2-27 located at approximately 450 light-years away. But the interesting part is that the spiral arms extend to about 6 billion miles from the core of the newly forming solar system. To visualize, the range of the spiral arms reaches farther than the Kuiper belt from the Solar System's Sun. This is the first time a spiral structure and forming planets overlap inside a disk.

Signs of a forming galaxy was initially identified, but new data including the circumstellar disk midplane in the region suggests planets are being formed suggesting that the spiral arms could belong to a young and forming planetary system or a solar system. The identification of arms provided astronomers new explanations as to how planets form. Usually, planets come from disks made up of dust and gas near a forming star but it was not clear yet how the components merge into huge bodies that become planets afterward. The formation of bigger planets like Saturn and Jupiter is also a mystery to scientists and they would like to know how components from space merge and grow into massive planetary bodies.

Usually, these objects grow in a cumulative way when components merge together. But other factors work against this theory because when components form a small object, it then starts to migrate towards the star. How and when will the process stop? 

According to experts studying the spiral arms, it can solve the conflicting theories. The spiral structure and its gravity manage and stop the forming of a disk. There will be areas where planetary formations move faster while in areas where there is fluctuating gravitational pull there will be more collisions and disruptions preventing planets to form faster or to fully form.

Although the spiral arms can help astronomers understand the planet formation system, another mystery presented itself with the discovery. Astronomers are now asking how the spiral structure formed and why do they exist in the region where planets are undergoing formation.


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