The ALMA telescope captured "in fragants" to a stellar intruder

A scientific team has managed to record a phenomenon rarely observed until now: the approach of an object to the star system Z Canis Majoris (Z CMa), located at an estimated distance of 3000 light years from our solar system.

Thanks to observations from the telescopio Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array (ALMA), in Chile, in collaboration with his peer Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), in the United States, the researchers were able to verify that this non-system object it zoomed in and interacted with the environment of the binary protostar, causing long, chaotic plumes of dust and gas to form in the surrounding disk.

This type of phenomenon had been observed with some frequency in computer simulations of star formation processes, but so far few direct observations had been made, informs a statement from ALMA.

“It is difficult to obtain proof of these approach phenomena because they occur very quickly and are difficult to detect”, Explain Ruobing Dong, an astronomer at the University of Victoria (Canada) and principal investigator of the study: “What we did is equivalent to capturing the image of a lightning bolt at the exact moment a tree strikes.”

This finding, according to Dong, shows that close encounters with young stars surrounded by discs are real and not just guesswork formulated in computer simulations.

Nicolas Cuello, Astrophysicist at the University of Grenoble Alpes, in France, and co-author of the article, adds that, in the case of Z CMa, it was the morphology (or structure) of these plumes the one that helped scientists accurately identify and locate the intruder.

“The stellar encounters cause morphological changes in the discs (spirals, deformations, shadows, etc.) that reveal these close-ups. In this case, by carefully observing the disk of Z CMa, we detect the presence of various signs of close-ups.”

These clues not only helped the scientific team to identify the intruding object, but also made it possible to deduce the consequences that these interactions would have for the future of Z CMa and the new planets that are forming in the system, a process that remains a mystery.

The disturbances, including long streams of gas, were observed in detail by astronomers. Credit: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), S. Dagnello (NRAO / AUI / NSF), NAOJ.

“Thanks to this new research, we now know that these approaches do occur and that generate a significant impact in the gaseous circumstellar disks where planets form, around young stars, “says Cuello.

These close-ups, he points out, can significantly disturb these disks surrounding the affected stars, as evidenced by the extensive plumes observed around Z CMa.

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