Astronomers using the ALMA telescope have snapped a clearer picture of a triple star system still beginning to form.
Gizmodo explains that the developing star system, named L1448 IRS3B, is no older than 150,000 years, which makes the system a newborn in its cosmic time frame. The protostar system is made up of three developing stars embedded in a disk of gas and dust.
The image captured by ALMA is the best image yet taken of a developing triple star system. The newly detailed look at L1448 IRS3B is allowing astronomers to determine that the system contained two stars at first which were later joined by a quickly forming third star.
It has been noted that multi-star systems can contain stars that form in their own protostellar disks. In the case of L1448 IRS3B, all three stars are drawing off a shared disk of material.
The diameter of the entire triple system is about 800 astronomical units (AU), encompassing a space about eight times the diameter of our solar system.
“Large-scale fragmentation refers to multiple stars that form more or less independently from each other with thousands of AU separation,” John Tobin of the University of Oklahoma said. “Small-disk fragmentation happens on a few hundreds of AU scales in a disk of material that is orbiting around a young star that has already formed.”
One star, thought to be the system’s newest member, lies at a distance of about 183 AU from the others and appears to shine more brightly.
It appears that instability overtook the system at some point and caused fragmentation in the protostellar disk, causing the outlying star to form.
Further study of the triple star system will help astronomers understand more about how star systems form and evolve.
The study was published in the journal Nature.