Science Gazette

The birth of planets in a binary star system has been witnessed


In unprecedented detail, astronomers have observed primordial material that may be giving birth to three planetary systems around a binary star.

An worldwide collaboration of scientists has seen a pair of stars circling each other, revealing that these stars are surrounded by disks of gas and dust after three decades of research. The material found inside the newly discovered disks might represent the start of new planet systems that will circle the binary stars in the future.

The scientific team analyzed the binary star SVS 13, which is still in its embryonic period, using the Very Large Array (VLA) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). This study has offered the finest description of a binary system in formation accessible to date.

Planets are thought to originate by the gradual aggregation of ice and dust particles in protoplanetary disks surrounding nascent stars, according to planet formation models. Typically, these models take into account simply a single star, such as the Sun. Most stars, on the other hand, form binary systems in which two stars revolve around a shared center. Little is known about how planets form in the vicinity of these critical twin star systems, in which the gravitational interaction between the two stars is crucial.

“Our findings show that each star has a ring of gas and dust around it, and that a bigger disk is growing around both stars,” explains Ana Karla Daz-Rodrguez, lead researcher at the IAA-CSIC and the UK ALMA Regional Centre (UK-ARC) at The University of Manchester.

“This outer disk has a spiral structure that feeds matter into the individual disks, and planetary systems might emerge in all of them in the future. This clearly demonstrates the presence of disks surrounding both stars, as well as the existence of a shared disk in a binary system.”

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The binary system SVS 13, which consists of two stellar embryos with a total mass comparable to that of the Sun, is quite near to us, around 980 light-years distant in the Perseus molecular cloud, allowing for extensive investigation. The two stars in the system are incredibly near to each other, with just around ninety times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The work has enabled researchers to investigate the composition of gas, dust, and ionized matter in the system. Furthermore, approximately thirty distinct compounds have been found in the vicinity of both protostars, including thirteen complex organic molecules that are precursors to life (seven of them detected for the first time in this system). “This suggests that when planets develop around these two suns, the basic blocks of life will be there,” Ana Karla Daz-Rodrguez (IAA-CSIC / UK-ARC) explains.

The scientific team used observations of SVS 13 obtained by the VLA over thirty years, along with new data from ALMA, to trace the motion of both stars over this period, as well as the geometry and orientation of the system, as well as many fundamental parameters, such as the mass of the protostars, the mass of the disks, and their temperature. “This study illustrates how rigorous, systematic investigations of newborn stars may offer a very precise understanding of their structure and attributes,” says Gary Fuller of the University of Manchester, a collaborator on the research.

“We started researching this technique at the IAA twenty-five years ago. We were astonished to learn that SVS 13 was a radio binary since just one star could be spotted in the optical. Normally, stellar embryos are identified in radio, but they are only detectable at the conclusion of the gestation period. It was surprising to find a pair of twin stars, one of which seemed to have developed far quicker than the other. We devised numerous tests to elicit additional information and determine if either of the stars could create planets in such a scenario. Now that we’ve established that both stars are very young and capable of forming planets, “Guillem Anglada, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofsica de Andaluca (IAA-CSIC) who is coordinating the SVS 13 studies, says

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SVS 13 has sparked significant discussion in the scientific literature, with some research claiming it is relatively early and others claiming it is in a later stage. This new research, which is likely the most comprehensive study of a binary star system in formation, not only sheds light on the nature of the two protostars and their environment, but also provides critical parameters for testing numerical simulations of the early stages of binary and multiple system formation.

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