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Newly Discovered Binary Star System Breaks Two Records

The unnamed binary star system now holds the record for the longest near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years, and happens every 69 years.  (Image: Faroe Islands Total Solar Eclipse  David Byrne via  flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )
The unnamed binary star system now holds the record for the longest near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years, and happens every 69 years. (Image: Faroe Islands Total Solar Eclipse David Byrne via flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )

A recently discovered binary star system has entered the record books for both the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest period between eclipses in a binary system.

The unnamed binary star system, which is nearly 10,000 light years from Earth, now holds the record for the longest near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years, and happens every 69 years.

The discovery of the extraordinary properties of the system, known only by its astronomical catalog number TYC 2505-672-1, was made by astronomers from Vanderbilt and Harvard. Colleagues from Lehigh, Ohio State and Pennsylvania State universities, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, and the American Association of Variable Star Observers also assisted.

Vanderbilt doctoral student, Joey Rodriguez, who is also the paper’s first author, said:

The former record holder was a giant star called Epsilon Aurigae, its companion eclipsed by it every 27 years for periods ranging from 640 to 730 days.

Illustration of binary star system which produces the longest lasting eclipses known. (Image: Jeremy Teaford / Vanderbilt University)

Illustration of the binary star system that produces the longest lasting eclipses known. (Image: Jeremy Teaford/Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt University says the leading explanation is that Epsilon Aurigae consists of a yellow giant star orbited by a normal star slightly bigger than the sun, embedded in a thick disk of dust and gas oriented nearly edge on when viewed from Earth.

Rodriguez adds that:

Keivan Stassun, professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt, and co-author, said:

After analyzing thousands of images of TYC 2505-672-1 it was revealed to be a system similar to the one at Epsilon Aurigae, however there were some important differences.

The system seems to have a pair of red giant stars, with one appearing to have been stripped down to a small core. It is also surrounded by an extremely large disk of material which produces the extended eclipse. Rodriguez explains:

The astronomers did admit that TYC-2505-672-1 was so distant that the data from the images was limited. However, they could estimate the surface temperature of the companion star, and had discovered that it is around 2,000 degrees Celsius hotter than the surface of the sun.

By combining this with the observation, it appears to be less than half the diameter of the sun. The researchers propose that it is a red giant that has had its outer layers stripped away, and that this stripped material may account for the obscuring disk. However, they admit this is just a theory.

In order to produce the 69-year interval between eclipses, the team calculates that they must be orbiting at an extremely large distance, about 20 astronomical units, which is approximately the distance between the sun and Uranus.

The paper was accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

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