A triple-star system with a misaligned and warped circumstellar disk shaped by disk tearing

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Science  04 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6508, pp. 1233-1238
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba4633

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Ripping up a circumstellar disk

During the process of star formation, a disk of gas and dust forms around the young star, controlling the accretion of more material. Once the star has formed, any leftover material in this circumstellar disk can form planets. If a binary or triple star forms at the center of the disk, theoretical models predict that tidal torques caused by their orbits can rip the disk apart, in a process known as disk tearing. Kraus et al. observed the nearby young triple-star system GW Orionis with multiple near-infrared and submillimeter telescopes, using the techniques of interferometry and polarimetry. They found evidence for multiple rings with different orientations and warping of part of the disk, both produced by disk tearing.

Science, this issue p. 1233


Young stars are surrounded by a circumstellar disk of gas and dust, within which planet formation can occur. Gravitational forces in multiple star systems can disrupt the disk. Theoretical models predict that if the disk is misaligned with the orbital plane of the stars, the disk should warp and break into precessing rings, a phenomenon known as disk tearing. We present observations of the triple-star system GW Orionis, finding evidence for disk tearing. Our images show an eccentric ring that is misaligned with the orbital planes and the outer disk. The ring casts shadows on a strongly warped intermediate region of the disk. If planets can form within the warped disk, disk tearing could provide a mechanism for forming wide-separation planets on oblique orbits.

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