A cloud of gas and dust whirling around a young star system 1,300 light-years away is quite strange. No planet-forming disc ever seen is like this one.
The system comprises three rings encircled around three stars. The rings have different orientations, and the innermost is wildly misaligned from the other two.
Such a strange occurrence is the first direct proof that the misalignment, also known as “disc tearing,” can happen in the wild. And even if ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array) has done the most detailed examination of the system, it’s still unknown how the disc-tearing happened. Here is everything you need to know.
Protoplanetary System Has Quite Odd Features
The system is dubbed GW Orionis and is situated approximately 1,300 light-years away in the Orion constellation. It comprises two stars, wrapped around each other at a length of about one astronomical unit, with a third star orbiting the duo on a misaligned orbit at eight astronomical units.
Around all these stars, the massive protoplanetary cloud of gas and dust churns, with the rings at some lengths of 46, 185, and 340 astronomical units from the system’s core. The outer ring is the biggest astronomers have ever seen in a protoplanetary system.
The odd misalignment in the protoplanetary disc in GW Orionis was first found in ALMA observations in 2017. Further observations included data from both ALM and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. The third star in the system was spotted back in 2011.
Astronomers utilized 3D computer simulations of the system and discovered that the conflicting gravitational influences of the stars and other different planes produced the notable disc tearing seen in GW Orionis.
“This planet has likely carved a dust gap and broken the disk at the location of the current inner and outer rings,” detailed astronomer Nienke van der Marel of the University of Victoria.
If such a planet existed, it would be the first we’d ever seen orbiting three stars. More observations of the system are needed to try and solve this puzzle.
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