Solar systems with planets (like ours) start out with a circumstellar disk. A circumstellar disk is a ring of gas and dust that orbits a star from which planets form. Normally, these disks don’t last long in the cosmic sense, only about 30 million years or so, and they’re pretty rare around red dwarf stars.
But the universe is full of unexpected surprises. In this case, the recently identified star, called AWI0005x3s (a real easy name to remember) is a red dwarf star with a circumstellar disk. And that disk is older than it “should” be. It’s about 45 million years old, so it’s been around for one and a half times as long as these disks are normally around for.
This is cool and all, but what does it mean for us? Well, it means that we have the opportunity to study a “warm” circumstellar disk. But what’s really exciting is that this star might harbor some planets as well. If that’s true, then they’re likely pretty young by planet standards, so we could be looking at planets that are still forming. A lot of what we know about planet formation is still hypothetical because so far it’s been hard to study the process as it’s happening, but that could all change.
And to boot, the star was actually found with the help of a group called Disk Detectors, citizen scientists who help analyze and classify “warm infrared objects” found by the Wide-Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. WISE has found 747 million such objects, so there is a lot of data to go through, hence needing the help of some 30,000 people doing this in their free time. Figuring out that one of these warm objects was this interesting must have been a great feeling.