For the first time, astronomers have been able to look at a multiple-star system in its beginning stages, just as it’s forming.
Seeing such a detailed view of a star being born is like hitting the research jackpot, and could help us understand more about how our own galaxy might have developed in its infancy.
According to Gary Fuller at the University of Manchester, almost half of all stars are in systems with more than one star.
Just think of the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars, which had two suns in the sky.
Forgotten what the binary sunset looked like on Tatooine? Here’s a perfect image of it set to the music of John Williams:
Experts agree that studying the formation and destruction of systems like these can help us learn more about our own sun, and whether it once had stellar siblings.
The amazing discovery happened while the team was studying a dense gas-form called Barnard 5 (B5) in the constellation Perseus. B5 is known to contain one young star that is still forming.
However, when the researchers attempted to map radio emissions from ammonia molecules, they found that some of the gas in B5 is breaking into smaller structures. These fragments have begun to contract and form additional stars.
Project leader Jaime Pineda, at Switzerland’s Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, said: “We know that these stars eventually will form a multi-star system because our observations show that these gas condensations are gravitationally bound. This is the first time we’ve been able to show that such a young system is gravitationally bound.”
He added: “This provides fantastic evidence that fragmentation of gas filaments is a process that can produce multiple-star systems.”
The researchers predict that when the gas condensations become stars, they will form a stable system with two suns, and the other two stars will be ejected.
It seems that the more we learn about the universe, and its stars and planets, the more we learn about ourselves, our future, and our past.