(ORDO NEWS) — Star-forming cloud L483 looks normal when viewed from a reduced distance. But as a group of astrophysicists led by Northwestern University got closer and closer to him, things got weirder.
Looking closely at the cloud, the researchers noticed that its magnetic field was curiously curved. And then, when they looked at the newborn star inside the cloud, they noticed a hidden star hidden behind it.
“Essentially, they’re the brother and sister of the star,” said Erin Cox of Northwestern University, who led the new study.
The new results provide insight into the formation of binary stars and how magnetic fields influence the earliest stages of star development.
Star nurseries are wild and amazing places. When dense clouds of gas and dust collapse to form stars, they launch stellar matter at hypersonic speeds.
The magnetic field surrounding the star forming cloud is usually parallel to these streams. When Cox and her colleagues observed the large-scale L483 cloud, they found that the magnetic field matched this typical profile.
But then astrophysicists decided to take a closer look with NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), and that’s when things got weird. In fact, the magnetic field was not parallel to the streams of newborn stars. Instead, the field was twisted at a 45 degree angle with respect to the currents.
Although more observations are needed, Cox believes that a previously hidden twin star may be responsible for the swirling field.
Using SOFIA, a team of astrophysicists spotted one newborn star forming inside a shell of material. But upon closer inspection with radio telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, researchers spotted a second star that has the same stellar envelope.
Being about the same distance apart as our Sun is from Pluto, two young stars form a binary system. Astrophysicists now agree that binary systems can form when star-forming clouds are large enough to give birth to two stars, or when a disk orbiting a young star partially collapses to form a second star.
“There is new work that suggests that it is possible for two stars to form at a great distance from each other, and then one star moves closer and forms a double star,” Cox said. “We think that is exactly what is happening in this case.
We don’t know why one star is moving towards another, but we think the moving star changed the dynamics of the system to change the magnetic field.”
Most people are familiar with the iconic Star Wars scene in which Luke Skywalker looks longingly at the binary stars around which his home planet Tatooine revolves. Scientists now know that this scenario is not just science fiction; planets orbiting binary stars could potentially be habitable worlds.
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