You might think of snow as a distinctly earthly phenomenon. But snow happens in space, too: When stars form, they create a ring of snow that spins and surrounds them.
Until now, we’d never found these snow-orbits. But on Wednesday, a team of scientists announced they’d stumbled on a star surrounded by a ring of snow — then shot a photo of it.
The ring came to be when the heat from the young star actually helped transform the water molecules into ice. A sudden increase in brightness by a young star and the resolution of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array allowed the research team to see the edge of the ring, which they call the water snow line. The location of the snow line — and how planets form in and out of the ring — has the potential to teach scientists a lot about the formation of planets in our own solar system.
Named V883 Orionis, the young star sits in the sword of the Orion constellation. It is a third more massive than our Sun, and, after a large amount of its planetary disk material collapsed into its surface, it shines 400 times brighter, too. That intense heat and brightness moved the edge of the snow ring ten times farther into space than normal. For comparison, it was about as far out as Pluto in our solar system.
You can see the water snow line form in the video below.