Astronomers Discover Impossible Binary Systems

Astronomers operating with the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Hawaii have discovered four pairs of stars that orbit every other in less than 4 hours.

This artist’s impression shows the tightest of the new record breaking binary systems. Two active M4 sort red dwarfs orbit each and every other every 2.5 hours, as they continue to spiral inwards. Ultimately they will coalesce into a single star (J. Pinfield / RoPACS network)

Until now it was thought that such close-in binary stars could not exist.

About half of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are, in contrast to our Sun, part of a binary system in which two stars orbit each and every other. Most likely, the stars in these systems had been formed close with each other and have been in orbit around every single other from birth onwards. It was always thought that if binary stars form too close to each and every other, they would swiftly merge into one single, larger star. This was in line with several observations taken over the last three decades displaying the abundant population of stellar binaries, but none with orbital periods shorter than 5 hours.

For the first time, the team has investigated binaries of red dwarfs, stars up to ten times smaller and a thousand times less luminous than the Sun.


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