A unique spectacle is unfolding in a very distant galaxy that “to our knowledge is the first phenomenon of its kind ever discovered,” said Alejandro Viña-Gomez, an astrophysicist at the University of Copenhagen.
There are many three-star systems, but this is the first with a similar configuration with such massive and close stars. Around the binary system (which has about 12 times the mass of our Sun combined) dances a third outer star with 16 times the mass of the Sun. Recall that our Sun (which makes up 99.8% of the mass of our solar system) weighs just over 330,000 Earth masses.
In addition to identifying this trio, dubbed TIC 47071037, scientists are now trying to understand how such an unusual group could have formed. And for this, they, together with their colleague Bing Liu, put forward several theories.
First, there was the idea that the outer, larger star formed first. However, this option was not chosen, as after some research, the team realized that such a stellar Leviathan was likely to have thrown material inside that would have disrupted the formation of binary stars. There would be no trio. Gaseous debris would scatter in all directions.
Second, the team speculated that the Double Star Dancers and the Third Star Spectator could form separately, far apart, and then fall together due to gravity. Although this scenario has not yet been completely ruled out, the researchers believe that it may not be the best. They focus more on the last possibility, the one they prefer. Possibility is slightly less “joint”.
The researchers wondered what would happen if two separate binary star systems formed in close proximity to each other, and then one of those pairs merged into a giant star. If so, then this massive combined star would be the outer star we see today, orbiting a smaller, but still huge, stellar duo.
In other words, it is possible that the fourth dancer was part of this cosmic ballet, but was unfortunately eaten by his partner before the final scene. According to the team’s new research, which is based on a variety of computer models and fascinatingly based on the findings of citizen scientists, this was the most likely case.
“But one model is not enough”
Viña-Gomez believes that confirming his and Mr. Liu’s suspicions with great certainty will require either the use of telescopes to study the tertiary system in more detail, or a statistical analysis of nearby stellar populations.
“We also urge people in the scientific community to scrutinize the data,” Liu said in a statement. “What we really want to know is whether this type of system is common in our universe.”
CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance