A team of scientists from Cambridge University have made an interesting discovery about 600 light years away from Earth. The smallest ever star currently known to man is party of a binary system which means it orbits another, larger star. It’s size, according the researchers, makes it about as small as a star could possibly be while still being classified as a star.
“Our discovery reveals how small stars can be,” say Alexander Boetticher of the University of Cambridge. “Had this star formed with only a slightly lower mass, the fusion reaction of hydrogen in its core could not be sustained, and the star would instead have transformed into a brown dwarf.”
So, just how small is the smallest ever star? It’s a similar size to Saturn, only slightly larger. Of course, Saturn isn’t even the biggest planet in our solar system. When compared with our sun, this tiny star only has 8.4% of the Sun’s radius and is 2,000 to 3,000 times more faint than our sun.
The star has been given an official name of EBLM J0555-57Ab. However, it was almost not even classified as a star at all. Because of it’s size and the fact it orbits another star; scientists originally thought they had seen another planet. Detecting celestial bodies 600 light years away is no small task. Scientists usually look for a change in the amount of light emitted by a distant star to determine if a planet has moved in front of the star. After discovering what the initially believed was a planet, closer inspection revealed the truth.
It’s also thought that small, dim stars like EBLM J0555-57Ab are the perfect candidates for detecting Earth-like planets that contain life. Because of their mildness, planets would be able to hold liquid water more easily as they orbit the small star. You may recall that, last year, NASA discovered a star named TRAPPIST-1: an ultra-cool dwarf star with several planets in its orbit which could potentially hold water and, consequently, life.
Of course, aspiring space colonists shouldn’t start packing their bags just yet. Scientists have yet to determine if any planets near these small, cool stars are actually habitable. The distance, measured in light years, is also much further than anything most people can even imagine. Still, it’s exciting to see that researchers are learning more and more about our galactic backyard. Today it’s the smallest ever star. Tomorrow, who knows what other record breaking discoveries could be made?