UR astronomers, studying a select list of 30 of the brightest, youngest protostars, or stars in their early stages of development, have discovered one with a great deal of water falling into its accretion disk – a disk of interstellar material that collects around protostars.
Professor of Physics and astronomy Dan Watson and other astronomers at the University are thought to be the first scientists to observe this brief stage of disk formation in which large amounts of water enter the forming star’s system.
According to astronomers, nearly 23 earth masses of water are falling onto the disk of the protostar IRAS4B each year. To put this number into perspective, if all of this water were to surround the sun, the edge of the sphere would reach past Pluto.
Ice falls into the accretion disk at very high speeds and evaporates on impact, emanating an infrared spectrum that can then be detected by astronomers. That is precisely how UR astronomers, who were originally studying the 30 protostars for evidence of dense, warm matter, discovered the buildup of water in IRAS4B. As of now, it is the only star of the 30 being studied at UR that has this much water in its disk.
When Watson and his colleagues first began studying IRAS4B and the 29 other bright protostars, there were only 50 similar protostars known. Since then, hundreds more have been discovered, leaving the astronomers with much more to study in the coming years.
Lombardo is a member of the class of 2010.