Astronomers discover ‘exotic’ quintuple star system

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

Astronomers who thought they had only discovered a rare quintuple star system were in for a surprise when they found out that the system was comprised of a pair of linked stars (binaries), one of which had a lone companion star.

According to BBC News, the system is the first of its kind to ever be identified by researchers. Each of the star pairs orbit around one shared center of gravity, despite the fact that they’re separated by a greater distance than that between Pluto and the Sun.

This unique system is located 25 light years away in the constellation Ursa Major. It was discovered by astronomers reviewing data from the Wide Angle Search for Planets (SuperWASP), and their findings have been published online and presented this week at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, north Wales.

Sky ‘would put the makers of Star Wars to shame’

The system has been named 1SWASP J093010.78+533859.5 (rolls off the tongue), and co-author Dr. Marcus Lohr told the BBC that the data indicated that the new system contained two binary stars, one of which was a so-called contact binary. The stars orbited so close to each other that they actually shared an outer atmosphere.

The other stellar duo, a detached binary, were roughly three million kilometers away from each other, he added. They orbited in the same plane at a distance of more than 20 billion kilometers. Additional observations conducted in different wavelengths of light emanating from the system revealed the existence of the fifth star, said to be linked to the detached binary.

“This is a truly exotic star system. In principle there’s no reason why it couldn’t have planets in orbit around each of the pairs of stars,” Dr. Lohr told BBC News Wednesday. “Any inhabitants would have a sky that would put the makers of Star Wars to shame… There could sometimes be no fewer than five Suns of different brightnesses lighting up the landscape.”

Furthermore, he and his colleagues found that based on the consistent angles of inclination for the binaries, it’s likely that all of the stars had formed by fragmentation from the same proto-stellar disk of dust and gas, and had subsequently remained in the same orbital plane.


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