February 25, 2024

Crucial discovery in a neighboring galaxy: ‘direct evidence’

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Researchers have discovered for the first time an important planet-forming element in an alien galaxy. “I couldn’t believe it,” one researcher said.

San Pedro de Atacama/Chile – A look beyond our galaxy: Astronomers have recently made a remarkable discovery: in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy neighboring our Milky Way, they have identified for the first time a rotating disk around a young star, like the European Southern Observatory ESO Announced in a press release.

This phenomenon provides a unique view of the formation of stars and planets beyond our galactic home. The discovery was made using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter (ALMA) telescope in Chile.

The lead author of V.I nature Published study Anna McLeod, a lecturer at Durham University in the United Kingdom, stresses the importance of this discovery because it provides the first direct evidence of the existence of the so-called accretion disk in another galaxy. “When I first saw evidence of a rotating structure in the ALMA data, I couldn’t believe we had discovered the first extragalactic accretion disk,” she explains excitedly. “That was a special moment.”

An accretion disk forms around a young star in our neighboring galaxy in the Large Magellanic Cloud © ESO Science Outreach Network

Pioneering discovery: a disk formed from a planet around an alien star

Anna McLeod continues: “We know that disks are necessary for the formation of stars and planets in our galaxy, and here we see direct evidence of that in another galaxy for the first time.” The European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) has found a jet — a jet of matter — from a star called HH 1177. “We detected a jet emanating from this young, massive star,” McLeod explains. Its presence is an indication of ongoing disc buildup.

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To confirm the existence of the disk, it was necessary to measure the movement of dense gas around the star. Scientist Jonathan Henshaw from Liverpool John Morris University explains the process: “The frequency of light changes depending on how fast the glowing gas is moving towards us or away from us. This is exactly the same phenomenon that occurs when an ambulance siren changes pitch as it passes you.”

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory in Chile: Several giant antennas are pointed into space.
ALMA Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile © ESO Science Outreach Network

Researcher Anna McLeod: “It’s very exciting!”

Through detailed frequency measurements using ALMA, researchers were able to detect the distinct rotation of the disk and thus confirm the groundbreaking discovery of an extragalactic accretion disk. Massive stars like those observed in the Large Magellanic Cloud have a faster formation rate and shorter lifetimes compared to low-mass stars like our Sun.

In our galaxy, such massive stars are often difficult to observe because they are often obscured by dusty material. On the other hand, HH 1177 provides a clear view of star and planet formation in a galaxy 160,000 light-years away due to its low dust content.

Anna McLeod concludes by saying: “We are in an era of rapid technological progress in astronomical facilities. It is very exciting to be able to study star formation at such amazing distances and in another galaxy. “This pioneering discovery opens new horizons for the study of cosmic evolution and represents a milestone in the study of our galactic neighborhood. (Las)