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Unique Triple Star System Detected


TESS Telescope NASA

Two young researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen are trying to understand how a recently detected triple star system came to exist. Designated TIC 470710327, the system in effect has two small binary stars that orbit around one another and a third larger star. And the system may even have a planet in it.

This is not the usual way in which a triple star system exists. This is why this system is so unusual. Scientists believe that it once had four stars – two separate sets of binary stars – but one of the stars may have “eaten” its partner. But this is just one possible way in which it formed. There is no way to tell how the larger star in the system actually formed.

As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating!”

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And the star’s images did not even come from the James Webb Space Telescope, which has already provided the deepest and sharpest infrared images of the distant universe to date. The system was discovered with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite TESS space telescope– designed to search for planets in other solar systems.

“As far as we know, it is the first of its kind ever detected”, Alejandro Vigna-Gomez says a postdoc at the Niels Bohr International Academy at the University of Copenhagen involved in the research said. “We know of many tertiary star systems (three star systems), but they are typically significantly less massive. The massive stars in this triple are very close together – it is a compact system.”

“When investigating the formation of the star system, several options were considered,” Dr. Vigna-Gomez also listed the other possible ways that the system formed. The bigger star may have formed first, and at some point ejected material that formed into the binary star.

Another possibility, he explained, is that the binary and the third star formed separately from each and at some point they fell into one another’s gravitational pull and formed into one system.

What we know of the star system so far is that the orbital period of the binary stars – how long they orbit one another – is the same as that of the rotation of Earth, about one day. The combined mass of the two of them is 12 times the mass of our Sun. But the third star alone has about 16 time the mass of our sun, almost 3 times the mass of each of the binary ones.

The larger tertiary star orbits the binary ones about 6 times per year.

The scientists explained that since the stars are so bright it at first appeared that this was just a binary system and the third star was not seen.

The Niels Bohr International Academy (NBIA) is an independent center of excellence hosted by the Niels Bohr Institute. Our mission is to attract the best and the brightest to Denmark and provide the environment to enable breakthrough research in the physical sciences and mathematics, such as astroparticle physics, biophysics, condensed matter, quantum devices, particle physics, cosmology, and theoretical astrophysics.



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