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In the Media

article imageAstronomers find 'impossible' binary star systems

article:328070:17::0
By Abigail Prendergast
Jul 6, 2012 in Science
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Binary stars - stars that orbit around one another - have long been thought to take at least five hours to complete their trek. However, this theory has just been debunked, as astronomers just discovered binaries that do the "impossible."
A common notion in the realm of astronomy has, for years, been that binary stars could not orbit their given center of mass in under five hours. That idea has recently been disproved as astronomers have discovered "impossible" binary star systems - in other words, two stars that orbit around one another - via a red dwarf study conducted with Hawaii's United Kingdom Infrared Telescope reports Geekosystem.com.
According to Sci-News.com, binary stars make up for roughly half of the Milky Way's cosmic population. Until recently, it was perceived that if they form to close to another of their kind, they would subsequently combine into a single, larger star.
A team of scientists has, for the first time, looked into binaries consisting of red dwarf stars; albeit our galaxy's most common star, they do not appear in conventional surveys due to having visible light a thousand times less bright than the sun.
“To our complete surprise, we found several red dwarf binaries with orbital periods significantly shorter than the 5 hour cut-off found for Sun-like stars, something previously thought to be impossible,” said Dr. Bas Nefs of the Netherlands' Leiden Observatory. “It means that we have to rethink how these close-in binaries form and evolve.”
Stars begin the process of decreasing in size early on in their lifetime, and the existence of binary systems seems to indicate their orbits have shrunk over time as well. Even so, the only real hypotheses as to how this happens is that cool stars that occupy binary systems are "much more active and violent than previously thought."
Another possibility is that the magnetic field lines emitted by the cool stars get construed and twisted around as they spiral inward toward one another. Any additional activity can be spawned by "stellar wind, explosive flaring and star spots."
The powerful magnetic activity that is generated is believed to keep the stars from merging into one another by making their momentum more lethargic.
“Without UKIRT’s superb sensitivity, it wouldn’t have been possible to find these extraordinary pairs of red dwarfs,” said Dr. David Pinfield, co-author of a paper accepted for publication in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society along with Nefs. “The active nature of these stars and their apparently powerful magnetic fields has profound implications for the environments around red dwarfs throughout our Galaxy.”
article:328070:17::0
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