Astronomers spy two baby stars in a cosmic pretzel

Each star surrounded by circumstellar disk

By Ashley Strickland, CNN
ESO/NAOJ/NRAO via CNN

Astronomers spy two baby stars in a cosmic pretzel.

(CNN) - Two baby stars have been found and imaged in unprecedented detail between 600 and 700 light-years from Earth. Each baby star is surrounded by a ring called a circumstellar disk, which is made of gas and dust that feeds the star and helps it grow.

These are the youngest stars within a star cluster found in the Barnard 59 dark nebula, also part of what's known as the Pipe nebula. It's called a dark nebula because here, the dust clouds are so thick that they block out the light of stars.

Previously, astronomers believed there were regions of space without stars, but later discovered that dark nebulas just obscure starlight from our view.

Barnard 59 forms the mouthpiece of the Pipe Nebula, which is highlighted by star clouds around it.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, called ALMA, an international team of astronomers was able to look inside Barnard 59 and find this surprise that resembles a cosmic pretzel. The astronomers published their findings Thursday in the journal Science.

"We see two compact sources that we interpret as circumstellar disks around the two young stars," said Felipe Alves, study author and postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. "The size of each of these disks is similar to the asteroid belt in our Solar System and the separation between them is 28 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth."

Around both circumstellar disks is a larger disk that helps create the pretzel shape. The disk's mass is that of 80 Jupiter masses, showcasing a complex spiral shape.

"This is a really important result," said Paola Caselli, study co-author and managing director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. "We have finally imaged the complex structure of young binary stars with their feeding filaments connecting them to the disk in which they were born. This provides important constraints for current models of star formation."

The stars are actually feeding off the larger ring in a roundabout way. The mass in the larger ring reaches the individual disks through the vibrant loops we see in the image. Then, the stars feed off of their individual disks.

"We expect this two-level accretion process to drive the dynamics of the binary system during its mass accretion phase," Alves said. "While the good agreement of these observations with theory is already very promising, we will need to study more young binary systems in detail to better understand how multiple stars form."

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