Sunday, November 14, 2010
Astronomers Find 'Snooker' Star System
“Astronomers at The University of Warwick and the University of Sheffield have helped discover an unusual star system which looks like, and may even once have behaved like, a game of snooker.”
Astronomers from the University of Warwick and Sheffield played a key role in an international team that used two decades of observations from many telescopes around the world. The astronomers discovered this “snooker like” star system through observations and analysis of data from an astronomical camera known as ULTRACAM, which was designed by British researchers on the team.
The researchers looked at a binary star system called NN Serpentis, which is 1670 light years away from Earth. The NN Serpentis is a binary star system consisting of two stars, a red dwarf and a white dwarf, which orbits each other in an incredibly close, tight orbit. The Earth sits in the same plane as the binary star system, so we can see the larger red dwarf eclipse the white dwarf every 3 hours and 7 minutes.
The astronomers from University Warwick and Sheffield were able to use these incredible recurrent eclipses to spot a pattern of small, but significant abnormalities in the orbit of stars. They were able to help demonstrate that the pattern must be due to the presence and gravitational influence of two massive gas giant planets. The more massive the gas giant is about 6 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the binary star every 15.5 years, the other orbits every 7.75 years and is about 1.6 times the mass of Jupiter.
Professor Tom Marsh, a UK researcher from the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, stated: "The two gas giants have different masses but they may actually be roughly the same size as each other, and in fact will also be roughly the same size as the red dwarf star they orbit. If they follow the patterns we see in our own star system of gas giants with a dominant yellow or blue colours, then it's hard to escape the image of this system as being like a giant snooker frame with a red ball, two coloured balls, and dwarf white cue ball."
Professor Vik Dhillon, from the University of Sheffield, also stated: "If these planets were born along with their parent stars they would have had to survive a dramatic event a million years ago: when the original primary star bloated itself into a red giant, causing the secondary star to plunge down into the present very tight orbit, thereby casting off most of the original mass of the primary. Planetary orbits would have seen vast disturbances. Alternatively, the planets may have formed very recently from the cast off material. Either way, in relatively recent times in astronomical terms this system will have seen a vast shock to the orbits of the stars and planets, all initiated by what is now the white dwarf at the heart of the system."
Discoveries of new star systems and patterns will likely lead to a greater understanding of the vast universe that surrounds us. Scientists will continue to explore unknown areas, but will have the knowledge gained from previous discoveries.
">Science Daily">. Retrieved November 14, 2010, <.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101108191615.htm.>