European astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study TMC1A, a protostar only 100,000 years old, and were able to observe the spectacular stellar whirlwind emitted by the object.
TMC1A, located 450 light-years away, is still experiencing its growing pains, which for baby stars come in the form of powerful jets of material removed from the surrounding disk. The jet stretches up to a distance of 3.8 billion kilometers (2.3 billion miles), over twice the distance between the Sun and Saturn. These observations have been reported in Nature.
“Using the ALMA telescopes, we have observed a protostar at a very early stage,” lead author Per Bjerkeli, from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, said in a statement. "We see how the wind, like a tornado, lifts material and gas up from the rotary disc, which is in the process of forming a new Solar System."
The jet is generated by the many changes the disk of material experiences. The gas contracts and begins to speed up. As it approaches the star, it interacts with the strong magnetic field and is ejected, taking away some of the energy in the system. ALMA is capable of detecting the infrared light from the ejected gas and it has been employed to study the early history of distant star systems.
“We can see that the rotating wind formed across the entire disc. Like a tornado, it lifts material up from the gas and dust cloud and at some point the wind releases its hold on the cloud, so that the material floats freely,” added co-author Prof Jes Jørgensen, also from the University of Copenhagen.
“This has the effect that the rotation speed of the cloud is slowed and thus the new star can hold together and in the process, the material in the rotating gas and dust disc accumulates and forms planets.”
The next step for the researchers is a more detailed study of the system to find out if the jet material falls back onto the disk and provides more material for planetary formation.