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Scientists Mystified by Dusty Cosmic Disks that Survive Extreme Forces from Massive Stars

First Posted: Mar 10, 2015 10:41 AM EDT
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A team of scientists have discovered something unusual at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. They've detected 20 rotating dust and gas discs in each cluster hosting exceptionally large and hot stars. The existence of these discs in the presence of a destructive UV radiation field is especially surprising and now, scientists are investigating how these rotating discs manage to withstand these extreme conditions.

The center of the Milky Way is a nursery for young stars. These stars form rich groups such as the "Quintuplet" and the "Arches" clusters; both of these clutsers are only a few million years old and contain stars as massive as 100 times the mass of the sun. This means that these stars produce enormous radiative energy that would, in theory, evaporate the material around their smaller neighbors.

In this latest study, though, the researchers discovered a surprising number of dusty discs surrounding stars in the Quintuplet and Arches clusters.

"In such a hostile environment, we did not expect to find any circumstellar discs after more than a few hundred thousand years, and yet we found more than 20 discs in each cluster at ages of a few million years," said Andrea Stolte, one of the researchers, in a news release.

Exactly how these rotating discs survive their giant neighbors is puzzles. However, the astronomers do have some theories. It's possible that the gas and dust discs display an unprecedented resistibility to their hostile environment, or a previously unobserved mechanism recharges the discs. The solution may also lie in the companion stars; when two stars circle each other, the bigger companion may provide fuel to its smaller twin and possibly refuel the disc material to make up for the evaporated gas.

The findings pave the way for future studies. More specifically, they show the scientists need to conduct more observations to find out why these discs manage to survive the extreme forces that these massive stars produce.

The findings are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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