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Astronomers find unprecedented ‘disc’ around distant planet

(The Independent)

Scientists have found the first ever disc structure around a star outside of our own Milky Way.

The disc is around a young massive star forming in a stellar nursery called N180. It is within the Larg Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that neighbours ours.

The disc is 163,000 light years from Earth – meaning that it is not only the first to be detected outside of our galaxy, but also the most distant such disc ever seen.

Matter cannot fall straight into a star. Instead, it flattens out, making a disc that spins around the star.

Closer to the star, the disc rotates faster. Scientists caught that difference in speed using telescopes, confirming that it is a disc around a distant star.

Scientists have seen such discs before, but only in our own galaxy. Being able to see them outside of the Milky Way is a remarkable feat of technology, scientists said.

Lead author of the study, Dr Anna McLeod from Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, Durham University said: “When I first saw evidence for a rotating structure in the ALMA data, I could not believe that we had detected the first extragalactic accretion disc; it was a special moment.

“We know discs are vital to forming stars and planets in our galaxy, and here, for the first time, we’re seeing direct evidence for this in another galaxy.

“We are in an era of rapid technological advancement when it comes to astronomical facilities.

“Being able to study how stars form at such incredible distances and in a different galaxy is very exciting.”

The findings are reported in a new article, ‘A likely Keplerian disk feeding an optically revealed massive young star’, published in Nature.