Anne Dutrey led a research group from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Laboratory of Astrophysics in observing the distribution of dust and gas in the GG Tau-A binary star system. It was discovered recently that one component of GG Tau-A is a double star. Estimated to be only a few million years old, this object is said to be 460 light years from Earth within the constellation Taurus.
GG Tau-A is found to have a large, outer disk that encircles the entire system. It is also found to have an inner disk that lies around the main central star. The inner disk, which has a Jupiter-like mass, has been a source of intrigue among astronomers because the central star seems to be losing material at a rate that should have caused it to be depleted long ago.
Probing further, the research team discovered the presence of gas clumps in that region found between the two disks. It is therefore suggested that a transfer of material goes on from the outer to the inner disk, giving the impression that a sustaining lifeline exists between them.
"These observations demonstrate that material from the outer disk can sustain the inner disk for a long time. This has major consequences for potential planet formation," says Dutrey. "Detecting these clumps indicates that material is moving between the disks, allowing one to feed off the other."
Prior simulations done through the computer have suggested that material streaming from a bigger outer disc into the binary system's inner area was actually possible. However, this is the first time that scientists have really observed it happening.
"These streamers of gas and dust will allow the disc around the individual stars of this multiple system to survive on timescales long enough to eventually form planets," said Emmanuel Di Folco, the study co-author and an astronomer at the University of Bordeaux in France.
If the process of feeding the inner disk occurs in other multiple star systems, scientists in the future may be able to find a massive number of new potential locations where they can find exoplanets.
During its first phase, exoplanet searches are focused on single host stars such as the sun. Recently, it was learned that a large proportion of giant planets orbit around binary star systems. Now, individual stars in multiple star systems are investigated closely by the researchers to find out if there are any planets orbiting them.
The latest discovery has so far supported the idea that such planets exist, thereby adding new hunting grounds for exoplanet explorers.