'Blinking' stellar system may yield clues to planet formation

Aug. 1, 2013 at 4:20 PM

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 1 (UPI) -- U.S. astronomers using a NASA space telescope say they've spotted a young stellar system whose developing stars cause the system to "blink" every 93 days.

The system likely consists of three developing stars, two of which are surrounded by a disk of material left over from the star-formation process, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Thursday.

As the two inner stars whirl around each other, astronomers said, they periodically peek out from the disk that girds them like a hula hoop, causing the cosmic "blink" witnessed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

It is believed this disk should go on to spawn planets and the other celestial bodies that make up a solar system, astronomers said.

The stellar system YLW 16A is the fourth example of a star system known to blink in such a manner, they said.

Planets in such a system can orbit one or both of the stars in the binary star system; the famous science fiction planet Tatooine in "Star Wars" orbits two stars, and such worlds are referred to as circumbinary planets.

"These blinking systems offer natural probes of the binary and circumbinary planet formation process," said Peter Plavchan, a scientist at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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