Two Stars Orbiting Each Other Every 51 Minutes. This Can’t End Well

An artist’s illustration shows a white dwarf (right) circling a larger, sun-like star (left) in an ultra-short orbit, forming a “cataclysmic” binary system. Credits:Credit: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

We don’t have to worry too much about our Sun. It can burn our skin, and it can emit potent doses of charged material—called Solar storms—that can damage electrical systems. But the Sun is alone up there, making things simpler and more predictable.

Other stars are locked in relationships with one another as binary pairs. A new study found a binary pair of stars that are so close to each other they orbit every 51 minutes, the shortest orbit ever seen in a binary system. Their proximity to one another spells trouble.

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Binary Stars Live Complicated Lives, Especially Near the End

Artist's impression of a red giant star. If the star is in a binary pair, what happens to its sibling? Credit:NASA/ Walt Feimer

We know what will happen to our Sun.

It’ll follow the same path other stars of its ilk follow. It’ll start running out of hydrogen, swell up and cool and turn red. It’ll be a red giant, and eventually, it’ll become so voluminous that it will consume the planets closest to it and render Earth uninhabitable. Then billions of years from now, it’ll create one of those beautiful nebulae we see in Hubble images, and the remnant Sun will be a shrunken white dwarf in the center of the nebula, a much smaller vestige of the luminous body it once was.

This is the predictable life the Sun lives as a solitary star. But what happens to stars that have a solar sibling? How would its binary companion fare?

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Astronomers Have a New Way to Find Exoplanets in Cataclysmic Binary Systems

Artist’s impression of a cataclysmic variable system as seen from the surface of an orbiting planet Credit Departamento de Imagen y Difusion FIME-UANL/ Lic. Debahni Selene Lopez Morales D.R. 2022 Licence type Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Have you heard of LU Camelopardalis, QZ Serpentis, V1007 Herculis and BK Lyncis? No, they’re not members of a boy band in ancient Rome. They’re Cataclysmic Variables, binary stars that are so close together one star draws material from its sibling. This causes the pair to vary wildly in brightness.

Can planets exist in this chaotic environment? Can we spot them? A new study answers yes to both.

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Slimmed Down Red Giants Had Their Mass Stolen By a Companion Star

Millions of stars that can grow up to 620 million miles in diameter, known as ‘red giants,’ exist in our galaxy, but it has been speculated for a while that there are some that are possibly much smaller. Now a team of astronomers at the University of Sydney have discovered several in this category and have published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“It’s like finding Wally… we were extremely lucky to find about 40 slimmer red giants, hidden in a sea of normal ones. The slimmer red giants are either smaller in size or less massive than normal red giants.”

PhD candidate Mr Yaguang Li from the University of Sydney, as quoted from the source article.
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Planets Have Just Started to Form in This Binary System

Binary stars are common and imaging their planets will be a challenge. How can astronomers block all that light so they can see the planets? This artist's illustration shows the eclipsing binary star Kepler 16, as seen from the surface of an exoplanet in the system. Image Credit: NASA

Astronomers have watched the young binary star system SVS 13 for decades. Astronomers don’t know much about how planets form around proto-binary stars like SVS 13, and the earliest stages are especially mysterious. A new study based on three decades of research reveals three potentially planet-forming disks around the binary star.

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A Second Generation of Planets can Form Around a Dying Star

An illustration of a protoplanetary disk. The solar system formed from such a disk. Astronomers suggest this birthplace was protected by a larger filament of molecular gas and dust early in history. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
An illustration of a protoplanetary disk. The solar system formed from such a disk. Astronomers suggest this birthplace was protected by a larger filament of molecular gas and dust early in history. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

When young stars coalesce out of a cloud of molecular hydrogen, a disk of leftover material called a protoplanetary disk surrounds them. This disk is where planets form, and astronomers are getting better at peering into those veiled environments and watching embryonic worlds take shape. But young stars aren’t the only stars with disks of raw material rotating around them.

Some old, dying stars also have disks. Can a second generation of planets form under those conditions?

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Incredible Image Shows Twin Stellar Jets Blasting Out of a Star-Forming Region

The sinuous young stellar jet, MHO 2147, meanders lazily across a field of stars in this image captured from Chile by the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF's NOIRLab. The stellar jet is the outflow from a young star that is embedded in an infrared dark cloud. Astronomers suspect its sidewinding appearance is caused by the gravitational attraction of companion stars. These crystal-clear observations were made using the Gemini South telescope’s adaptive optics system, which helps astronomers counteract the blurring effects of atmospheric turbulence. Image Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

Young stars go through a lot as they’re being born. They sometimes emit jets of ionized gas called MHOs—Molecular Hydrogen emission-line Objects. New images of two of these MHOs, also called stellar jets, show how complex they can be and what a hard time astronomers have as they try to understand them.

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Astronomers Discover a Totally New Kind of Nebula

Discovery image of the nebula. For this image, 120 individual exposures had to be combined to obtain a total exposure time of 20 hours. The images were taken over several months from Brazil. Image Credit: Maicon Germiniani

Most Universe Today readers are familiar with nebulae. They’re gaseous structures lit up with radiation from nearby stars, and they’re some of nature’s most beautiful forms.

With the help of amateur astronomers who laid the groundwork, an international team of astronomers have discovered a new type of nebulae around binary stars that they’re calling galactic emission nebulae.

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Astronomers See a Star Crash Through the Planetary Disk of Another Star

Flash heating around the second star after it has crashed through the disc. FU Ori. Credit: Elisabeth Borchert.

What causes an otherwise unremarkable star to become over 100 times brighter? That’s a question astronomers have been pondering since 1936, when a star in Orion brightened from 16th magnitude to 8th magnitude in a single year.

The star, named FU Ori, is still bright to this day. Astronomers have come up with different explanations for the star’s brightening, but none of them provides a complete explanation.

Now we might have one.

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