Multiple Star Formation Image 4
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Multiple Star Formation (Image 4)

June 23, 2010
Multiple Star Formation (Image 4) A Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope image of the young, multiple-star system L1551 IRS 5. The two large objects are the two main protostars in the system with their surrounding disks of gas and dust. The extension coming out of the lower left of the top one is the newly-discovered third protostar in the system. [Image 4 in a series of 4. Back to Image 1.] The young, still-forming protostars are enshrouded in a cloud of gas and dustmaking them invisible to optical telescopes--some 450 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Taurus. This object was first discovered in 1976 by astronomers using infrared telescopes. Then in 1998, a VLA study showed two young stars orbiting each other, each surrounded by a disk of dust that may, in time, congeal into a system of planets. There are two popular theoretical models for the formation of multiple-star systems. First, that the two protostars and their surrounding dusty disks fragment from a larger parent disk. Second, is that the protostars form independently and then one captures the other into a mutual orbit. More recently, astronomers reexamined L1551 IRS5 using improved technical capabilities that greatly boosted the quality of their images and yielded important clues about how such systems are formed. The new observations showed that the disks of the two main protostars are aligned with each other, and also are aligned with the larger, surrounding disk. In addition, their orbital motion resembles the rotation of the larger disk. This 'smoking gun' supports the fragmentation model. (Date of Image: unknown)

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