You are here

Misaligned Disks

February 3, 2017

If anyone is watching a binary star system in Ophiuchus in a couple of million years, they might see an assortment of planets unlike any other. Some of the planets might orbit the individual stars, while some might circle around both stars.

IRS 43 consists of two proto-stars — balls of gas that aren’t yet hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion in their cores. Each is roughly as massive as the Sun, and is still growing — gas and dust is still falling onto their surfaces.

But some of the gas and dust may survive to make a planetary system unlike anything astronomers have yet seen. They’ve found binaries where planets orbit one or both of the individual stars, or where planets orbit both of the stars — but never both in the same system.

IRS 43, though, includes three disks of gas and dust — one around each star, and a giant one encircling the entire system. Each of the disks is aligned in a different direction, so they don’t line up in a neat and orderly way.

Some of the material in the disks could coalesce to form planets. So each star could have worlds of its own, with perhaps a few more shared between them.

The astronomers who discovered this odd configuration aren’t sure what caused it. Perhaps the original cloud that collapsed to form the two protostars was unusually turbulent. Or perhaps it was stirred up when the protostars kicked a third one out of the system — setting the stage for the birth of an unusual set of planets.


Script by Damond Benningfield

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.