Astronomers are finding more stars with planets around them. However finding a star that is in the process of forming planets could be harder to find. Astronomers might have found one such star that is on its way to having planets around it.
Elias 2-27 is a young star. Astronomers have observed that the young star have spiral arms together with its protoplanetary disk. This is the first time that such spiral arms have been seen at the disk midplane, according to Phys Org. This makes the discovery even more significant as this is the area that astronomers believe planetary formation takes place.
The observations were done at the ALMA observatory in Chile. Observations were made by an international team led by Laura Perez, an Alexander von Humboldt research fellow from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn. Other researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg join her.
The spiral structure is formed from the thermal dust emissions of a protoplanetary disk. These disks could be found around young stars and are where planets are then formed. Previously it was thought that planets formed within the disks, pulled together by gravity, as Space.com reports. However, the discovery of Elias 2-27 with its protoplanetary disk having spiral arms might change that.
If ever there are spiral arms about such disks, they were said to occur in the later stages of planetary formation. Elias 2-27 shows that it could occur even in the early stage of its formation. The star is relatively young at only 1 million years old and has an unusually large protoplanetary disk. The disk is about one-seventh of our Sun's mass.
The spiral arms themselves are far from the star, about 10 billion kilometers away from it. This is much farther than the Kuiper Belt in our solar system. The spiral arms might be gathering material to form planets far from the star. As Perez notes, the spiral arms might suggest a different process of planetary formation than what most think of.
Observations will continue on Elias 2-27, although it must be noted that planetary formation could take millions of years. The observations though might be a first step in seeing how young stars eventually develop planets. Similar discoveries in the future might make this even clearer and help astronomers have a better picture on how planets are formed.