Scientists discover a pair of ‘cataclysmic’ stars that orbit each other in less than an hour

Scientists discover a pair of 'cataclysmic' stars that orbit each other in less than an hour
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Scientists have discovered a pair of stars locked in an incredibly close orbit that revolve around each other once every 51 minutes and, according to the results of a new study, are only going to speed up.

The universe is a chaotic place when it comes to orbital mechanics. Our solar system, seen in relation to the rest of the cosmos, is a bit of a vanilla. We have our central star, the Sun, which is orbited by eight large planets which in turn are escorted through the skies by a plethora of moons and rings of different levels of impressive.

However, astronomers have discovered that about half of the star systems in our Milky Way galaxy are actually made up of multiple stars that are gravitationally bound together. The Alpha Centauri system, which is the closest neighboring stellar population to our Sun, is in fact a collection of three stars that orbit each other approximately 4 light-years apart. from the earth.

Stars are among the most massive and dynamic bodies in the universe, so naturally binary star systems can have some pretty extreme features.

In a new study, a team of scientists has discovered a rare pair of stars known as a ‘cataclysmic variable’, which complete a full orbit around each other in less than an hour.

A cataclysmic variable is a system in which a superdense white dwarf star orbits another stellar body similar to our Sun. White dwarfs are the cores of planet-sized stars that have used up their nuclear fuel and shed their outer layers.

In a cataclysmic variable system, a super-dense white dwarf orbits a companion star so closely that its gravity allows it to steal hydrogen from the larger stellar body’s atmosphere.

Artist's impression of a catastrophic binary system (Credit: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian)

Artist’s impression of a catastrophic binary system (Credit: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian)

The newly discovered star system, which has been imaginatively named ZTF J1813+4251, was first discovered by researchers turning to the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) survey. The catalog contains high-resolution images of more than a billion stars and tracks variations in their apparent brightness over time.

Kevin Burge, one of the authors of the new study published in the scientific journal Nature, used a computer algorithm to sort through the ZTF catalog to find flashes in the light signature of distant bodies that suggested the presence of two closely orbiting stars.

This search flagged about 1 million stars from the database of 1 billion. ZTF J1813+4251 stood out among the candidates, and flashes of light from the distant source suggested that it was a binary system.

Follow-up observations by the powerful Gran Telescopio Canarias in Spain and the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii discerned the radii, masses and orbits of the two strange stars.

ZTF J1813+4251 was revealed to be likely a catastrophic variable, formed by a geriatric star about the size of Jupiter with a mass equivalent to 1/10 that of our Sun. This stellar body orbits an ultradense white dwarf, which had a mass about half that of our Sun, packed into a space 1/100 of its volume, according to a Press release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Incredibly, these two stellar bodies appear to rotate in circles once every 51 minutes, giving them the shortest orbit of any cataclysmic variable discovered to date.

The researchers took the data from ZTF J1813+4251 and used it to simulate the duo’s likely evolutionary path stretching more than a hundred million years into the future. the effects than the largest amounts of the effects of deformation, white d.

This process is likely to continue until all that is left is a helium-dominated nucleus. Over the next 70 million years, this dense core will draw the pair into an even tighter orbital period of just 18 minutes.

Be sure to check IGN science page for more cosmic goodness.

Anthony Wood is an independent Sciences IGN writer

Image credit: Credit: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonians

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