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Astronomers Find Unusual Quadruple Star System With Unique Planet Forming Disc

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An international team of scientists has discovered a double star system with a unique planet-forming disk that has never been observed before.

In a new study, they detailed that instead of forming a circle in the equator, the surrounding disk made up of gas and clouds orbits the stars' poles. The team used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory in Chile to obtain high-resolution images of the unique double-star system.

A Weird Double Star System

Scientists have known through previous observations that almost all young stars have planet-forming disks (called protoplanetary disks) surrounding them. A third of the ones orbiting single stars would eventually form planets.

"Some of these planets end up being misaligned with the spin of the star, so we've been wondering whether a similar thing might be possible for circumbinary planets," explained Grant M. Kennedy of the University of Warwick and an author of the study. "A quirk of the dynamics means that a so-called polar misalignment should be possible, but until now we had no evidence of misaligned discs in which these planets might form."

Using the data from ALMA, Professor Kennedy and fellow researchers tried to pin down the orientation in which the protoplanetary disk orbit the system. By combining the data with the own movement of the two stars, they were able to conclude that the ring of gas and dust aligns with a polar orbit.

The researchers also revealed that the disc is behaving the same way it would in a single star, which means that planet formation can happen. They expect some misaligned circumbinary planets in the future.

A New Way Of Looking At The Universe

"We used to think other solar systems would form just like ours, with the planets all orbiting in the same direction around a single sun," added Daniel Price of Monash University, also an author of the study.

The researchers also believe that the planets that will form in the protoplanetary disks will likely have seasons that are very different from Earth.

The study titled "A Circumbinary Protoplanetary Disc In A Polar Configuration" was published in Nature Astronomy on Jan. 14.

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