Researchers highlighted the accomplishment of another landmark in the disciple of astronomy on Thursday. Astronomers report they are witnessing the birth of a quadruple-star system in a stellar nursery hundreds of light years away. The finding will help researchers understand why some stars, such as our sun, are single star systems, while others are created as multiple star systems with two, three, or more stars.
In fact, our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is a classic binary star system.
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The new study was published February 11 in Nature, and describes a stellar nursery area known as Barnard 5 (B5), around 800 light-years away in the constellation Perseus.
More on the new stellar nursery study
With the combined power of several giant radio telescopes including the Very Large Array (VLA) radio observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have managed to observe the earliest stages of formation of a future four-star system.
The scientists found one young, already-formed protostar as well as three clouds of cosmic dust that they think will also form into stars within 40,000 years or so.
However, the four stars may not stay together for too if things work out as the astronomers expect. According to their models, it is very likely that at least one of the stars will be ejected from the system at some point. This would leave behind three stars that would probably be bound together by gravity to form a triple-star system.
“These kind of multistar systems are quite common in the universe. Think of Tatooine in Star Wars, where there are two ‘suns’ in the sky,” commented co-author Gary Fuller of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester. “That isn’t too far away from something that could be a real formation. In fact, nearly half of all stars are in this type of system.”