Fruit can’t grow in space, but scientists from Japan have discovered the next best thing. Using a telescope on Earth, they’ve spotted two large features that look like bright yellow, banana-shaped objects facing each other, deep in outer space.
The bananas aren’t edibl The Remote Entrepreneur e, and they certainly don’t have peels. Instead, they’re part of a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star. Inside the disk, clouds of dust and gas are forming into planets.
Two bright-yellow, banana-shaped arcs of gas and dust face each other within a newly discovered disk surrounding a nearby young star.
Astronomers used to think that all protoplanetary disks are shaped basically like Frisbees. The new discovery adds to the growing realization that star-forming clouds can take on lots of different shapes.
The disk surrounds a star called HD 142527, which lies 650 light-years from Earth. Astronomers studied the star and its disk using the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The disk has a radius equal to about six times the distance between the sun and Neptune.
The astronomers also noted a gap separating an inner and outer portion of the disk. They suspect that a planet carved out this gap as it emerged from the disk some time in the distant past.
Astronomers observed a large gap between the outer and inner regions of the disk surrounding star HD 142527. The gap was probably cleared by a planet that formed within the disk.
The banana-shaped features stretch even farther out. These features were probably created by the pull of another star that passed by within the last thousand years, or perhaps by a large, outlying planet.
The HD 142527 disk isn’t the first to defy the standard disk shape. A doughnut-shaped disk appears to surround a pair of stars that lie in the constellation Taurus. And a spiral-shaped disk surrounds a star near the constellation Auriga.
Maybe strawberries and apples will be next!—E. Sohn
Cowen, Ron. 2006. Planet-making disk has a banana split. Science News 170(July 1):5. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060701/fob6.asp .
You can learn about the Subaru Telescope at www.naoj.org/ (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan).