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Scientists Discover Planet-Forming Disk in a Galaxy Outside the Milky Way

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

WCTU - In an exciting recent discovery, astronomers have found a planet-forming disk around a young star located in a galaxy outside our Milky Way. This groundbreaking observation suggests that the formation of stars and planets is not limited to our own galaxy but occurs in other galaxies as well.

CREDIT ESO/M. Kornmesser
ESO/M. Kornmesser - artist’s impression showing the HH 1177 system

The star in question resides in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy situated 160,000 light-years away. Known as HH 1177, this star system is nestled within a massive cloud of gas. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a powerful radio telescope composed of 66 antennas in Northern Chile, the team of scientists was able to observe this distant system.


Accretion disks, similar to the one discovered, are formed when matter falls towards a young star or another accreting object like a black hole or neutron star. As the material approaches these objects, it carries rotational spin, resulting in the formation of a flattened spinning disk that gradually feeds matter to the central body.


The key evidence of the accretion disk's presence lies in the variation in velocity within the disk. Gas closer to the central object, in this case, the young feeding star, moves faster than the matter at the disk's outskirts. This difference in velocity causes a change in the frequency of light emitted by the gas, a phenomenon known as redshift or blueshift. It is this "smoking gun" that confirms the existence of an accretion disk.


While scientists have previously detected bright accretion disks around supermassive black holes in other galaxies, finding these disks around stars, where planets eventually emerge, is far more challenging. Young stars are often shrouded in the gas and dust clouds from which they are born, making them difficult to observe. However, in the


Large Magellanic Cloud, the material giving rise to young stars is less abundant in dust, allowing astronomers to study HH 1177 and potentially witness the early stages of planet formation.


William McLeod, an astronomer involved in the study, expressed excitement about the possibilities brought about by advancements in astronomical technology. "We are in an era of rapid technological advancement when it comes to astronomical facilities," McLeod said. "Being able to study how stars form at such incredible distances and in a different galaxy is very exciting."


This groundbreaking discovery not only provides insight into the universal nature of star and planet formation but also highlights the strides being made in astronomical research. As scientists continue to probe the mysteries of the cosmos, our understanding of the vast and diverse universe expands, bringing us closer to unlocking the secrets of our own origins.

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