Spitzer's Spin on Stars
Brittany Rosales is a rising star in the roller skating arena.
The 13-year-old regional champs headed for the Nationals in freestyle.
She behaves like a star more than she realizes.
Young stars in the universe also love to twirl like Brittany, who spins faster and faster by
pulling her arms inward.
Brittany Rosales, Roller skater:
"When your arms are out, for me, I slow down, but then when I put my arms in I spin faster."
Newly-formed stars, brimming with gas and dust, also spin faster and faster as they collapse
inward. Some could even spin themselves to smithereens if something didn't put the brakes on
them. Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have found evidence
that it might be the dusty disks of planet-forming material that surrounds some young stars.
Dr. Luisa Rebull, Spitzer Space Telescope Scientist:
"We found that stars with disks rotate on average slower than stars without disks, so a star
that's rotating slowly is much more likely to have a disk than a star that's rotating quickly."
Astronomers like Luisa Rebull theorize that a star's magnetic field acts like a leash that
latches onto the dust disk.
But what's happening in these young stars that have disks is that the magnetic field from these
young stars is actually locking it to the disks. So, like the skater pulling in her arms, maybe
she's giving people high fives as she's trying to spin, and so that's slowing her spin down. So
even though she's trying to spin up, she can't because she's hitting stuff as she's going around
Rebull and other scientists thought planet-forming disks were causing the celestial slowdown,
but the evidence was missing until Spitzer came along. The infrared observatory is great at
spotting the heat from dusty disks.
Ultimately the big picture here is we're trying to figure out how stars like our sun formed and
whether all stars like our sun formed planets or just some of them. And if they do only some of
them form planets, why? What makes two stars that are otherwise twins, one decides to form
planets and one doesn't. It could be that that magic ingredient is the rotation rate of the star.
Brittany is realizing that her link to the universe goes far beyond the roller rink.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
Astronomers are anxious to learn more about this latest spin on stars and planets.