An article published in the journal “Nature Astronomy” reports the first observation of a pair of protostars in the Perseus molecular cloud fed by a flow of gas and various compounds that formed in the parent cloud. A team of researchers led by Jaime Pineda of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) used the Northern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA) to study the protostellar binary system cataloged as Per-emb-2 (IRAS 03292+3039). They called that flow of gas and compounds a streamer tracing its movement from the boundaries of the parent cloud to its core, near the protostars. This also helps to better assess the importance of the local environment on the formation and evolution of disks in the systems in formation from which planets could be born.
The study of the conditions in which new stars can form in a molecular cloud has been carried out for many years by many scientists thanks to increasingly powerful and sensitive instruments. Observations of stars still in formation can provide a lot of data on those conditions and the processes underway. Per-emb-2 (IRAS 03292+3039) is a system about 1,000 light-years from Earth where two stars are forming together, and in previous observations it showed variability and flickering that made it interesting in the eyes of astronomers. Jaime Pineda’s team, which includes researchers from MPE and the French Institut de Radioastonomie Millimétrique (IRAM), used the NOEMA radio telescope in the French Alps to study it better.
The top image (Courtesy MPE. All rights reserved) shows the area around the Per-emb-2 (IRAS 03292+3039) system, indicated by the box. The bottom image (Courtesy MPE. All rights reserved) shows the streamer feeding chemically fresh material to the protostars in the center of the image. The three images use different molecules as tracers, indicated in the upper right corner. The color code is based on the signal intensity.
The different molecules detected made it possible to measure the movements of the gas and disk over the streamer from the outer regions of the envelope that surrounds the protostar system to the materials that form the disk. The streamer has a length that is approximately 10,500 times the distance from Earth to the Sun, approximately 1,500 billion kilometers. Positions and gas velocities were reproduced in simulations that match the observations, confirming their correctness.
There’s a sort of reservoir of chemically fresh material that the streamer brings from the outer regions. It could greatly influence the shape and movement of gas in stellar systems. The observations of Per-emb-2 (IRAS 03292+3039) are important to understand this process. The chemical composition of the protoplanetary disk will also be affected by the streamer. Basically, the chances of organic compounds forming will depend on which materials will end up in young systems.
There’s still a lot to understand because the researchers are seeing a moment in a process that can last very long. More observations will be needed, also of other star systems in formation, to understand how long it can go and how it can influence the new planets, also in the possibilities that in the future they might host life forms.