Infant star may explain how solar system formed
London: For the first time, a 'baby' star has been captured just before 'birth' by astronomers - a breakthrough scientists believe could hold clues as to how our solar system formed.
The discovery provides the missing link in understanding how giant gas clouds collapse to form fully fledged stars.
The star's swirling disk of dust and gas is the youngest still-forming planetary system yet found - and could help explain how our own solar system formed.
The infant is just 300,000 years old at most - compared to the 4.6-billion-year age of our Sun and its planets - and is more than 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.
"It may be even younger, depending on how fast it accumulated mass in the past," John Tobin, a Hubble Fellow student at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, said.
Currently about one-fifth the mass of the Sun, it is expected to pull in material from its surroundings to eventually match it.
The disk surrounding the young star contains at least enough 'stuff' to make seven Jupiters - the largest planet in our solar system.
"This very young object has all the elements of a solar system in the making," Tobin said.
Called L1527 IRS, the young star resides in a stellar nursery known as the Taurus Cloud and is one of the closest examples of the earliest stage of star formation.
Astronomers detected both dust and carbon monoxide around the object.
By measuring radio waves coming from carbon monoxide in the disk they were able to show the rotation speed changes with the material's distance from the star in the same fashion the orbital speeds of planets change with distance from the Sun.
Hsin-Fang Chiang, a post-doctoral fellow at Illinois University, said this pattern called Keplerian rotation "marks one of the first essential steps toward forming planets".
"The disk is supported by its own rotation, will mediate the flow of material onto the protostar and allow the planet formation process to begin," he said.
"In many ways, this system looks much like we think our own solar system looked when it was very young," Tobin added.
David Clarke, professor of astronomy at Saint Mary's University in Nova Scotia, Canada, reviewed the study for the journal Nature and said it could be the 'holy grail' of star evolution.
"Tobin and colleagues may not be the first to measure the mass of a protostar, but the protostar they have observed is by far the best example to date," he said.