Three separate planetary systems are forming around a binary star

A melting pot of planetary formation that could provide insight into the origin of life in the universe.
Chris Young
Artist’s impression of the double-star system.ESO/L. Calçada

Astronomers spotted three planetary systems forming at the same time around a binary star system called SVS 13, 980 light-years away from Earth, according to a report by ScienceAlert.

The observations provide new insight into the early formation of planetary systems at an unprecedented scale.

Two newborn stars

Stars are formed when dense clouds of molecular gas collapse under their own gravity and start spinning. When this happens, the material flattens into a spinning disc, feeding material into a growing star. When the star is formed, any leftover dust and gas is eventually formed into planets, moons, asteroids, and other space objects.

"Our results have revealed that each star has a disk of gas and dust around it and that, in addition, a larger disk is forming around both stars," Ana Karla Díaz-Rodríguez of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) in Spain told ScienceAlert.

"This outer disk shows a spiral structure that is feeding matter into the individual disks, and in all of the planetary systems could form in the future. This is clear evidence for the presence of disks around both stars and the existence of a common disk in a binary system."

Both stars at SVS 13 can form planets

Díaz-Rodríguez and her team studied 30 years' worth of observations taken by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array. They also carried out new observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Though solar systems with multiple stars are thought to be more hostile towards the planet formation process, the team's experiments showed that both of the stars are capable of forming planets. "We have [discovered] that both stars are very young, and that both can form planets," said IAA-CSIC astronomer Guillem Anglada, who was also involved in the research.

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What's more, previous research on SVS 13 showed that the multi-star system contains complex organic molecules that could eventually form into building blocks for life. Though it's much too early in the complex system's lifespan for any life to have flourished, studying SVS 13 could inform the scientific community how these molecules eventually form into the structures that support life.

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