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Baby Star Ejects Powerful Whirlwinds

A powerful whirlwind shooting out of a young star has been observed by scientists using the ALMA telescopes. Even better: the researchers can explain the very formation of the massive wind. The findings have been documented in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Artist impression of the whirlwind emerging from a disc of gas and dust surrounding a young star. Photo credits: Per Bjerkeli/David Lamm/BOID.

Young Star Seen Ejecting Powerful Whirlwind

Upon contemplating the early stages of the formation of a new solar system using the ALMA telescopes (a set of 66 telescopes), a team of researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have been graced with the sight of the ejection of a massive whirlwind from the moving cloud of gas and dust encircling the young star of the system.

A Star is Born: Formation of New Solar System

The formation of the solar system starts in a big disc made of gas and dust. The force of gravity that is generated causes the latter to undergo contraction and condensation. The large cloud then becomes so dense that its centre is reduced into a ball of gas. This increased pressure is accompanied with a rise in temperature—and ultimately, from the glowing, hot gas ball, a star is born. At this stage, the baby star (actually called a protostar) is surrounded by the rotating remnants of the cloud of gas and dust which later gather into bigger clusters, resulting into planets. A solar system, thus, comes to be. But, before that, whirlwinds are generated, lifting the material and gas from the cloud.

Protostars and the Formation of Whirlwinds

The newly-observed protostar is 450 light years away from us. To get a better idea of this distance, consider this: it corresponds to 30 million the distance separating our planet from our Sun.

Protostars have previously been associated with powerful outflows of whirlwinds from before. However, the very formation of these winds had never been observed before—until now.

“Using the ALMA telescopes, we have observed a protostar at a very early stage. We see how the wind, like a tornado, lifts material and gas up from the rotary disc, which is in the process of forming a new solar system,” explains Per Bjerkeli, from the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen.

Bjerkeli and colleagues have explained the way it which the whirlwind is brought about.

“During the contraction of the gas cloud, the material begins to rotate faster and faster just like a figure skater doing a pirouette spins faster by pulling their arms close to their body. In order to slow down the rotation, the energy must be carried away. This happens when the new star emits wind. The wind is formed in the disc around the protostar and thus rotates together with it. When this rotating wind moves away from the protostar, it thus takes part of the rotational energy with it and the dust and gas close to the star can continue to contract,” says Per Bjerkeli.

Otherwise, it was previously thought that the source of the whirlwind was from inside the centre of the moving cloud of gas and dust.

“We can see that the rotating wind formed across the entire disc. Like a tornado, it lifts material up from the gas and dust cloud and at some point the wind releases its hold on the cloud, so that the material floats freely. This has the effect that the rotation speed of the cloud is slowed and thus the new star can hold together and in the process the material in the rotating gas and dust disc accumulates and forms planets,” explains co-author Jes Jørgensen.

Watch the a video here.


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