Why This Triple-Star System Is Warping, Tearing Its Planet-Forming Disk

Astronomers Find Misaligned and Warped Protoplanetary Disk around Triple-Star System | Astronomy

An global team of experts, led by the astronomers at the University of Exeter, identified GW Orionis where planet formation might take place in inclined dust and gas rings within a warped circumstellar disc around multiple stars based on observations with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), Georgia State University's Center for High-Angular Resolution Astronomy telescope array (CHARA), and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

They give two possible scenarios for the misalignment: either the disk was torn apart by the gravitational pull from the stars, or by a newborn planet. Our images show an eccentric ring that is misaligned with the orbital planes and the outer disk. Image credit: ALMA / ESO / NAOJ / NRAO / ESO / University of Exeter / Kraus et al.

The system, named GW Orionis, is located about 1,300 light-years away, in the constellation of Orion. It consists of three rings, wrapped around three stars - and all three rings have different trends, which are incorrectly placed internally from the other two.

Fortunately, although this illusion was only recently discovered, GW Orionis has been under surveillance since 2008, and was the third star in the system.

In new research, two independent teams of astronomers pointed ALMA at GW Orionis. If planets can form within the warped disk, disk tearing could provide a mechanism for forming wide-separation planets on oblique orbits. Added to this, the system's innermost ring is totally misaligned with the two larger, outer rings, jutting diagonally out of the plane like a sinking ship. The team had also used ALMA and observed the three dust rings, with the outermost ring being the largest ever observed on planet-forming rings.

Groups of stars can tear their planet-forming disk into smaller pieces, leaving distorted, malformed rings, scientists can find in a breakthrough study. (Even Earth's sun may have a long-lost twin lurking somewhere beyond Neptune, a recent study claimed).

"The inner ring contains enough dust to build 30 Earths, which is sufficient for a planet to form in the ring", Stefan Kraus, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and lead author of the Science study, said in the statement.

The second team, led by University of Exeter's Dr. Stefan Kraus, pointed both ALMA and VLT towards the triple star.


"At the same time, ALMA allowed us to measure the precise shape of the ring that casts the shadow".

The outcomes confirmed the ring's misalignment and confirmed that what they suspected all alongside was taking place 1,300 light-years away.

"When we got the data from VLT and Alma, the pictures were stunning". Orange rings are the (misaligned) rings seen by ALMA. Image credit: Kraus et al / NRAO / AUI / NSF. If a planet is indeed present, the discovery would also mark the first known planet, which orbits three suns at once.

"This proved crucial to understand how the stars shape the disk", said Professor John Monnier, an astronomer at the University of MI.

An global team of experts, led by astronomers at the University of Exeter and including the University of MI, has identified a stellar system where planet formation might take place in inclined dust and gas rings within a warped circumstellar disk around multiple stars.

For the first time it was possible to link the observed misalignment with the so-called disc rupture effect theory: the conflicting gravitational attraction of the stars, plus the misalignment in the orbits, caused the disc around the trio to break, dividing into rings warped and crooked. This would cause the disk around the three stars to fracture into distinct rings. "I'm very surprised to see the spherical image because we can actually see that the disk is a 3 dimensional structure, which is covered in surface bumps and shadows", Young said. "We think that the presence of a planet between these rings is needed to explain why the disk was torn apart", said Nienke van der Marel, Bi's team member and Banting fellow at the department of physics and astronomy at University of Victoria, in a statement. "Warped disks might be more common than thought, but they are not super common or a dominant mode of star and planet formation".

"This planet has probably created a dust gap and broken the disk in place of the existing inner and outer rings".

The distorted ring located inside the disk of the GW Orionis system contains 30 Earth-sized dust particles, the researchers found.

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