Researchers observing the formation of planets near a relatively young star were surprised to discover mysterious wavelike arches moving rapidly across a massive disk of space dust.
The space phenomenon, which resembled ripples in water, was first observed by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) located in Chile. The research team was trying to look for evidence of planet formations around a young red dwarf star, designated as AU Microscopii, when the event occurred.
Using images captured by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2010 and 2011, the researchers discovered similar wavelike arches in the sky but in different locations.
Researcher Anthony Boccaletti from the Laboratoire d'Etudes Spatiales et d'Instrumentation en Astrophysique (LESIA) in France said that the images taken using the VLT show mysterious features in the large disk that have wavelike or archlike structures that they have not seen before.
The cross-referencing of recent data with those observed earlier from the AU Microscopii star using the Hubble telescope allowed the scientists to observe the fast-moving ripples.
Christian Thalmann from Swiss university ETH Zurich explained that they were able to gather enough information in order to track the strange wavelike features throughout a four-year period by processing the Hubble images.
The researchers were also able to determine that the arches are traveling away from the AU Microscopii star at speeds of around 40,000 kilometers per hour (24,855 miles per hour).
The AU Microscopii star is located around 32 light-years from Earth. It is known to have only half of the sun's total mass.
The presence of a heavy disk of space debris surrounding the red dwarf star has led astronomers to observe the star for potential planets forming from the dust. In 2007, researchers have noticed fluffy, "dryer-lint" evidence in the area, which they believe could be precursors to planetary formation.
According to recent observations, the wavelike features are moving at great speeds away from the AU Microscopii star. The outermost arches were seen to move faster than others while the rest seem to travel quickly enough to avoid the gravitational pull of the AU Microscopii.
Experts believe the mysterious waves are likely not the result of collisions between asteroid-looking objects or even changes in the gravity of the star.
The researchers noted that further studies are needed to identify the cause of the wavelike structures racing from the AU Microscopii.
The international study on the wavelike arches is featured in the journal Nature.