See a 'cosmic pretzel' stuffed with twin baby stars

The universe can file this one under "cute baby photos" in its scrapbook.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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ALMA captured this incredible image of two circumstellar disks with two baby stars growing in the middle.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Alves et al.

If you like baby pictures, then you'll coo over this new image of twin baby stars that's helping scientists learn more about the complex process of star formation. 

The twin stars are located in the [BHB2007] 11 system, which is in the Barnard 59 dark nebula, which is in turn a part of the larger Pipe nebula. Astronomers had inspected the stars' home before, but had only seen the outside. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile took a deep look into the system.   

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Germany led the team that unveiled the pretzel-like view. There's a lot going on in this image, and it has to do with disks, dust, gas and hungry babies.

"We see two compact sources that we interpret as circumstellar disks around the two young stars," said MPE study lead Felipe Alves in a release from the European Southern Observatory on Friday. 

A circumstellar disk is pretty much what it sounds like, a disk of gas and dust that surrounds a baby star. The youngsters feed off of this material. The smaller disks are then surrounded by a bigger disk made up of dust in a spiral shape. That's where we get the "cosmic pretzel."

This is cause for scientific celebration. "We have finally imaged the complex structure of young binary stars with their feeding filaments connecting them to the disk in which they were born," said MPE's Paola Caselli. The information will help scientists improve their models for star formation. 

Since today is Triple Force Friday, a day dedicated to Star Wars product launches, it's a good time to remember the fictional planet Tatooine and its two suns. If Tatooine were real, its stars might have been born in much the same way as these twins. May the force be with you.

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