Scientists with the ALMA telescope have spotted an unusual formation of gas and dust in a double star system 146 light-years away.

The system isn’t unique in that it contains two binary pairs, but in how its surrounding planet-forming disk is oriented.

Astronomers say the disk of the quadruple star system has been flipped in a way that’s previously only existed in theory.

‘Discs rich in gas and dust are seen around nearly all young stars, and we know that at least a third of the ones orbiting single stars form planets,’ said Dr Grant M. Kennedy of the University of Warwick.

‘Some of these planets end up being misaligned with the spin of the star, so we’ve been wondering whether a similar thing might be possible for circumbinary planets.

‘A quirk of the dynamics means that a so-called polar misalignment should be possible, but until now we had no evidence of misaligned discs in which these planets might form.’

According to the researchers, the protoplanetary disk of this system surrounds the stars at a right angle to their orbits.

This effect would look much like a giant ferris wheel with a carousel positioned at its center.

The team captured high-resolution images of the strange arrangement using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA).

‘Perhaps the most exciting thing about this discovery is that the disc shows some of the same signatures that we attribute to dust growth in discs around single stars,’ Kennedy says.

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