Binary star system has planet forming potential

September 24th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Research News

scientific solar system images

Two University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa astronomers have found a binary star-disk system in which both stars are surrounded by dust disks like those in which planetary systems often form.

Reporting in the June 15 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, doctoral student Rita Mann and Associate Astronomer Jonathan Williams described the first known example of two optically visible stars, each surrounded by a disk with enough mass to form a planetary system like our own.

The Institute for Astronomy scientists obtained short wavelength radio images using the Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea to analyze the binary system 253-1536 in comparable detail to previous optical images from the Hubble Space Telescope. In the optical image, the glare of one star precluded analysis of the disk.

A binary star system consists of two stars bound together by gravity that orbit a common center of gravity. The larger disk in this system is the most massive found so far in the Orion Nebula, located 1,300 light-years from Earth. Both stars are about a third the mass of our Sun and much cooler and redder in color.

The discovery improves understanding of how common planet formation is in our galaxy and places our solar system in context, the scientists say. Most stars form as binaries. If both stars are hospitable to planet formation, it increases the likelihood that scientists will discover Earth-like planets.

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