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A Quartet of Stars, Locked in a Tight Embrace

Article written: 10 Jan , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015
by

Astronomers think that many star systems actually contain multiple stars. There are doubles, triples and even quadruple groupings of stars locked together in a gravitational embrace. Astronomers recently discovered a system with 4 stars orbiting within the orbit of Jupiter. It’s a surprising discovery considering no telescope on Earth is powerful enough to separate them into distinct points of light.

The star system, located 166 light-years from here, is called BC 22 5866, and its discovery was announced the Winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin. An international team of astronomers described how they had been monitoring several hundred star systems when they saw something unusual.

They were analyzing the light from one of hundreds of stars when they realized that its light could be broken into 4 separate stars. Even the most powerful telescopes on Earth can’t actually resolve the stars into separate objects, and that means they’re close together… really close.

The stars are paired up together into binary groupings, and then these two pairs orbit a common centre of gravity. One pair orbits each other in less than 5 days – at a distance of a mere 0.06 astronomical units (1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun). The second pair takes 55 days to complete an orbit, at a distance of 0.26 AU.

And finally, the two pairs take about 9 years to orbit one another at a distance of 5.8 AU – within the orbit of Jupiter in our own Solar System.

It must have been a very special system to allow 4 individual stars to form this closely together.

“The extraordinarily tight configuration of this stellar system tells us that there may have been a single gaseous disk that forced them into such small orbits within the first 100,000 years of their evolution, as the stars could not have formed so close to one another. This is the first evidence of a disk completely encompassing four stars,” says Dr. Shkolnik of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. “It is remarkable how much a single stellar spectrum can tell us about both the present and the past of these stars.”

Original Source: IfA News Release


9 Responses

  1. Navneeth says

    Astronomers recently discovered a system with 4 stars orbiting within the orbit of Jupiter.

    Won’t that be somewhat misleading to the unwary readers?

  2. Hego says

    I thought the only star within the orbit of Jupiter was the Sun. It turns out that there are 4 more stars that can’t be seen by telescopes (not even Hubble). WOW! … Maybe they’re hiding in a cave with Osama.

  3. Tom says

    Perhaps someone “less-than-intelligent” enough to think there are other stars within our solar system should not be reading UT’s articles and should instead start with the ‘Highlights’ or ‘The Big Book of Space and Stuff’ versions. They are just making a comparison of the distance between these objects with something we can relate to, ie. the orbit of Jupiter w/i our solar system.

  4. Anne says

    Very poor wording! I am still trying to figure out how we have 5 suns in our solar system?

  5. Glenn says

    Wow, some people jump to conclusions and then respond in not so positive terms, before fully realizing what has been said. I understood immediately. We only have room
    for one “bright and shining star’ in our system and the one you can’t look at is it. The ‘one’ you can’t name is who put
    it there.

  6. Raul says

    They found 4 stars in our solar system orbiting by Jupiter, but they can no longer be seen because they went into Uranus. HAHA.

  7. RUF says

    Tom said:
    “Perhaps someone “less-than-intelligent” enough to think there are other stars within our solar system should not be reading UT’s articles and should instead start with the ‘Highlights’ or ‘The Big Book of Space and Stuff’ versions. They are just making a comparison of the distance between these objects with something we can relate to, ie. the orbit of Jupiter w/i our solar system.”

    I would seem a large number of posts lately have been of this variety. 🙁

  8. Schiz says

    Oh wow, there are 4 stars orbiting Jupiter?!

  9. Interpretation, interpretation – so diverse,
    Mankind’s folly, mankind’s curse.
    Four stars orbiting in-flamed pursuit
    Could anything be quite so cute
    With solar wind they push and thrust
    With gravity they’ll swing or bust
    Which will win, and which will lose
    Could it be Jupiter who lights the fuse?

    What? Who said that? What’s Jupiter got to with it anyway? Everything – can’t you read? – I’m going to bed.
    No wonder the Bible is different things to different people. whew !

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