Researchers at the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) radio observatory in Chile picked up a protostar that is oddly deformed, which they say can possibly shed light on how planets are formed.
According to the recent findings by the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) and Japan’s Chiba University, L1527, an infant protostar still surrounded by a cloud, is made up of two discs. One of these is inside of the other and they are on different planes.
The findings were published in Nature, a British scientific journal. The protostar is some 450 lightyears away, in the Taurus Molecular Cloud, and formed just tens of thousands of years ago. It is still growing.
The shape implies that misalignment in planetary orbit originates in distortions early-on in the planet’s existence when it is still a disc.
The leader of the research group, Nami Sakai, said, “This observation shows that it is conceivable that the misalignment of planetary orbits can be caused by a warp structure formed in the earliest stages of planetary formation. We will have to investigate more systems to find out if this is a common phenomenon or not.”
One of the big questions remaining is how this deformation happened. Sakai offers two explanations for the phenomenon: “One possibility is that irregularities in the flow of gas and dust in the protostellar cloud are still preserved and manifest themselves as the warped disc,” she said. “A second possibility is that the magnetic field of the protostar is in a different plane from the rotational plane of the disc, and that the inner disc is being pulled into a different plane from the rest of the disk by the magnetic field.”
Further work is needed, however, in order to ascertain which of these options is actually responsible for the oblong shape, she said.