Astronomers from the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) and Chiba University in Japan have discovered an infant protostar that, they claim, is wrapped by a deformed disk.
This indicates that distortions in the planet-forming disk early in their existence could be the reason for the misalignment of planetary orbits in many planetary systems.
The discovery was made using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile.
For decades, scientists have known that the planets in our Solar System revolve around the Sun in planes that are up to seven degrees offset from the Sun's equator. Astronomical observations have also revealed that planets in many extrasolar systems don't orbit their host star in a single plane.
Scientists theorise that planets in such systems have probably collided with other objects in their system (or even stars passing by), which nudged them from their initial plane. Another possibility is that such planets were formed out of the normal plane due to the warping of the star-forming cloud where the planets were formed.
Some recent observations of protoplanetary disks have shown such warping, but scientists are still unsure about how early this warping happens.
In the latest study, astronomers report observing a deformed disk around a protostar located about 450 light years away in the Taurus Molecular Cloud.
This infant protostar came into existence just several tens of thousands of years ago. Dubbed L1527, the protostar features a disk that is still growing and is made up of two parts. The inner part of the disk rotates in one plane, while the outer part rotates in a different plane.
"This observation shows that it is conceivable that the misalignment of planetary orbits can be caused by a warp structure formed in the earliest stages of planetary formation," said Nami Sakai, the lead researcher of the study.
"We will have to investigate more systems to find out if this is a common phenomenon or not."
According to Sakai, the warping of the disk could be caused by the irregularities in the flow of gas and dust in the protostellar cloud. These irregularities eventually manifest themselves as the warped disk.
It is also possible that the protostar's magnetic field plane is different from the disk's rotational plane, and that the protostar's magnetic field pulls the inner disk into a different plane from the rest of the disk.
The team plans to investigate more extrasolar systems to determine the exact reason behind the warping of the disk.
The findings of the study are published in in the journal Nature.
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