Protoplanetary disks are formed by the distribution of gas and debris and are fundamental to the formation of planets.
Disks belonging to young solar systems which contain water are comprised of two distinct zones. The first, which forms closer to the star, is made up of water as a gas. But further into the solar system, the gas freezes, forming snow in space.
Normally, it’s impossible to capture the snowline, the point at which snow forms, because it is too close to the star. But in this instance the star heated significantly in a series of outbursts, which forced the snowline far enough out that they were visible through the telescopes.
Zhaohuan Zhu, an astronomer at Princeton University and co-author of the paper, which was published in Nature this week, said: “ALMA’s observation sheds important light on how and where this happens in protoplanetary disks when young planets are still forming.”
The snowline lies approximately 6 billion kilometres from the star, about the same distance from the Sun to Pluto.
The young star, V883 Orionis, is only about 30% more massive than the Sun, but it is currently 400 times brighter and significantly hotter.
The series of outbursts were caused by debris from the disk colliding with the surface of the star.
Because the area beyond the snowline contains more water ice than dust, planets accumulate more material and form bigger and faster there, according to Zhu. Jupiter and Saturn are believed to have formed in an equivalent region during the early stages of our solar system’s development.
Zhu added: “We now have direct evidence that a frosty region conducive to planet formation exists around other stars.”
NASA’s Most Famous Images:
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Kinescope images of astronaut Commander Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 space shuttle during the space mission to land on the moon for the first time in history on July 20, 1969
The ascent stage of Orion, the Apollo 16 Lunar Module, lifts of from its descent stage to rendezvous with the Apollo 16 Command and Service Module, Casper, with astronaut Thomas Mattingly aboard in lunar orbit on 23rd April 1972.
Five NASA astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis look out overhead windows on the aft flight deck toward their counterparts aboard the Mir Space Station in March of 1996.
Photograph of the Milky Way Galaxy captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Dated 2007.
The exhaust plume from space shuttle Atlantis is seen through the window of a Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) as it launches from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center July 8, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft sits on its launch pad as it is prepared for a 7:05 AM launch on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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Echo 1, a spherical balloon with a metalized skin, was launched by NASA on 12th August 1960. Once in orbit the balloon was inflated until it reached its intended diameter of 30 metres and it was then used as a reflector to bounce radio signals across the oceans.
Four views of Earth rising above the lunar horizon, photographed by the crew of the Apollo 10 Lunar Module, while in lunar orbit, May 1969.
American geologist and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Hagan Schmitt stands next to the US flag on the surface of the moon, during a period of EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) at the Taurus-Littrow landing site, December 1972.
The space shuttle 'Enterprise' (NASA Orbiter Vehicle 101) makes its way along Rideout Road (Alabama State Route 255) to the Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Alabama, 15th March 1978.
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Astronaut Bruce McCandless II photographed at his maximum distance (320 ft) from the Space Shuttle Challenger during the first untethered EVA, made possible by his nitrogen jet propelled backpack (Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU) in 1984.
Aerial shot of the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-41-D) as it takes off, leaving a trail of exhaust smoke, from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, 30 August 1984.
Two technicians inside a Space Shuttle external tank, circa 1985.
An astronaut's bootprint leaves a mark on the lunar surface July 20, 1969 on the moon. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission is celebrated July 20, 1999.
Astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr. leaves a photograph of his family on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, 23rd April 1972.