Chance Viewing Angle Reveals Stars Birth

May 19, 2021 | Daily Space, Stars

IMAGE: Artist’s impression of a young star surrounded by an accreting circumstellar disk. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As much as we love lab science, there really isn’t anything like getting out there and exploring the sky with telescopes. The only problem is, for most things in the universe, we only get one viewing angle, and that is the random one we have from here on the surface of the Earth. This puts where we are at the whim of the universe, and while we find plenty of stuff aligned at angles varying from edge-on to face-forward, just like photographers inching around our subject, for some science we want a very specific, viewing angle, and finding that angle requires a bit of luck, which scientists observing the still-forming star GV Tau N just happened to have. This star is still accreting matter from a large disk of gas and dust that surrounds it. 

From our vantage point on Earth, this system is ever so slightly tilted, and this tilt allows us to see straight along the edge of that wedge-shaped disk to the star in its center. Using the TEXES spectrograph on the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, the team measured the flow of material along the wedge and discovered rapidly inflowing gas in the amounts predicted by star formation theories! Specifically, they found a few Earth masses of material flowing in per year. This is one of those rare and glorious instances when we can say the observations matched what we expected from theory, and it looks like we understand one beautiful part of star formation.

More Information

Accretion in Action in an Angled Disk (AAS Nova)

High-resolution Mid-infrared Spectroscopy of GV Tau N: Surface Accretion and Detection of NH3 in a Young Protoplanetary Disk,” Joan R. Najita et al., 2021 February 22, The Astrophysical Journal

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