A Star's Spiral
NASA-supported researchers using a Japanese telescope in Hawaii have taken the first clear image of a rare sight: a star surrounded by a spiral-armed disk. Telescope images have shown hints of stars with spiral disks before. The clarity of this new image, however, is allowing researchers to study what causes this kind of spiral. Rings called circumstellar disks—composed of gas, dust and an accumulation of small objects—surround some stars. If the ring contains planets, their gravitational pull could alter its circular form and create the spiral arms. These videos take a closer look at the new image of star SAO 206462 and raise the question of whether orbiting planets, or something else entirely, created this curious shape.
What created the unusual spiral arms surrounding this star?
The asymmetric nature of the arms in the image of star SAO 206462 could mean that the disk contains at least two planets.
This video compares a visualization of a planet-forming star from the NCSA Advanced Visualization Lab to the new image of SAO 206462.
Two spiral arms emerge from SAO 206462's circumstellar disk, which stretches 14 billion miles across, about twice the size of Pluto's orbit.
The Subaru Telescope (center) on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, was used to spot SAO 206462.
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Please give credit for this item to:
Science@NASA and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Image of Mauna Kea summit courtesy of Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ)