By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Our sun and other stars form when a dense clump of interstellar gas and dust collapses under its own gravitational pull. Once a star is born at the center of such a cloud, leftover material forms a swirling disk around it that feeds stellar growth and often gives rise to planets.
Newborn stars with these circumstellar disks had been observed by astronomers only in our Milky Way galaxy - until now. Researchers said on Wednesday they have spotted such a disk around a star larger and more luminous than the sun residing in one of our nearest neighboring galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.
The star, growing and accreting material from the surrounding disk, is about 10 to 20 times more massive than the sun and perhaps 10,000 times more luminous.
As material is drawn by gravity toward a forming star, it flattens into a spinning disk. The newly observed disk has a diameter of about 12,000 times the distance of the Earth to the sun, or roughly 10 times larger than the one that encircled the sun when it formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.