Galactic snow has been discovered around a star beyond the solar system for the first time ever, giving an insight to atmospheric conditions and even signs of life, according to a new report by astronomers.
The “snowline” surrounding a young and hot star known as V883 Orionis originated from a violent stellar emission, where material from the star suddenly became heated and instantly sent the snowline away from the star, making water particles cold enough to freeze.
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Scientists at Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the desert of Chile were able to capture the image from a radio telescope, showing a bright star with an orange disc and a darker outline – the ring of snow.
V883 Orionis is located around 1,350 light years away from Earth and is 30 percent bigger than the Sun.
Zooming on the protoplanetary disc around V883 Orionis
“The ALMA observations came as a surprise to us,” astronomer Lucas Cieza and lead author of the report said in a statement. “Our observations were designed to image disk fragmentation, which is one of the proposed mechanisms for the formation of giant planets.
“We saw none of that, as the disk is probably too warm to fragment despite its very large mass. Instead, we found what looks like a ring at 40 AU. This illustrates well the transformational power of ALMA, which delivers exciting results even if they are not the ones we were looking for.”
Zhaohuan Zhu, an astronomer at Princeton University and co-author of the paper published in the journal Nature, said the distribution of water ice around the star is vital to planet formation and the “development of life on Earth.”
I stared for a few minutes at the water snowline around the newly discovered young star V883 Orionis and asked, "Who did this?"
— Tom Flowers (@TomFlowers) July 14, 2016
“ALMA’s observation sheds important light on how and where this happens in protoplanetary disks when young planets are still forming,” Zhu added, Phys.Org reports. “We now have direct evidence that a frosty region conducive to planet formation exists around other stars.”
The astronomers believe that in the snowline where water is vaporized, could pave is key for more rocky planets such as Mars and Earth to form, while ice allows the creation of snowballs and cometary bodies, which lead to the creation of large gaseous planets like Jupiter and Saturn.
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“Since water ice is more abundant than dust itself beyond the snowline, planets can aggregate more solid material and form bigger and faster there. In this way, giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn can form before the protoplanetary disk is gone,” Zhu added.
Studying the formation of water ice is vital for research into other planets, and it could also hold clues into the possibility of life, the scientist said.