Scientists spy ‘fluffy disk’ floating around young star


Subaru telescope helped astronomers catch a glimpse of a dust and gas disk floating around a forming star recently.

Astronomers have had a hard time getting a clear look at such disks in the past, because the star’s light at the center of the disk makes it difficult to see the disk itself, Subaru spokeswoman Suzanne Frayser said.

“They think this is a significant thing,” Frayser said, referring to Subaru’s observation. “They’re able to tell something about an earlier stage (of star formation). It helps to fill in the blanks about disk development and planetary development.”

An international team of astronomers, members of the Strategic Exploration of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru Telescope, used the High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Optics for the observation around the young star RY Tauri. That instrument was able to block the star’s light and used the adaptive optics to reduce blurring caused by the atmosphere.

The stage in which the disk was observed is “seeing something that’s almost like a transition,” Frayser said. “It gives you an idea that some of these theories about disk development are correct.”

Frayser described the disk as “fluffy” and said it “may act as a special comforter to warm the inside of the disk for baby planets being born there. It may affect the number, size and composition of the planets being born in this system.”

Young stars and disks are formed in clouds of gas and dust, Frayser said, so scientists think understanding the role of dust is important to helping them understand what role dust plays in such formation.

RY Tauri, which is about half a million years old, is about 460 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Taurus.