Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First known binary star is discovered to be a triplet, quadruplet, quintuplet, sextuplet system

11.12.2009
Alcor, 1 half of the first known binary star system, has its own surprise star companion

In ancient times, people with exceptional vision discovered that one of the brightest stars in the Big Dipper was, in fact, two stars so close together that most people cannot distinguish them. The two stars, Alcor and Mizar, were the first binary stars—a pair of stars that orbit each other—ever known.

Modern telescopes have since found that Mizar is itself a pair of binaries, revealing what was once thought of as a single star to be four stars orbiting each other. Alcor has been sometimes considered a fifth member of the system, orbiting far away from the Mizar quadruplet.

Now, an astronomer at the University of Rochester and his colleagues have made the surprise discovery that Alcor is also actually two stars, and is apparently gravitationally bound to the Mizar system, making the whole group a sextuplet. This would make the Mizar-Alcor sextuplet the second-nearest such system known. The discovery is especially surprising because Alcor is one of the most studied stars in the sky.

"Finding that Alcor had a stellar companion was a bit of serendipity," says Eric Mamajek, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and leader of the team that found the star. "We were trying a new method of planet hunting and instead of finding a planet orbiting Alcor, we found a star."

Mamajek says that a separate group of scientists, led by Ben Oppenheimer of the American Natural History Museum, has also just found that the Alcor companion is physically associated with the star.

That group has also recorded a rough spectrum of the star, which Mamajek says confirms his prediction that the companion is a cool and dim M-class dwarf star.

Mamajek and colleagues at the University of Arizona used the Multiple Mirror Telescope in Arizona, which has a secondary mirror capable of flexing slightly to compensate for the twinkling the Earth's atmosphere normally imparts to starlight. With the clearest images he could obtain of nearby stars, Mamajek's team used computer algorithms to remove as much glare as possible from the image of a star in the hopes of spotting a planet near the star. Planets are so much dimmer than their parent stars that spotting one is like trying to discern a firefly next to a spotlight from several miles away, says Mamajek.

Though Mamajek was unable to find any planets in the first group of stars he surveyed, he did stumble across the tiny star hidden in the glare of Alcor. Not only did Mamajek's project reveal the image of the star, but its presence was able to explain slight deviations in movement that scientists had noticed in Alcor. In addition, Mamajek estimates that the small companion star is likely a third as massive as our sun, and explains why astronomers have detected unexpectedly high levels of X-rays coming from Alcor—dwarf stars naturally radiate high levels of X-rays.

"It's pretty exciting to have found a companion to this particular star," says Mamajek. "Alcor and Mizar weren't just the first known binaries—the four stars that were once thought to be the single Mizar were discovered in lots of 'firsts' throughout history."

Benedetto Castelli, Galileo's protege and collaborator, first observed with a telescope that Mizar was not a single star in 1617, and Galileo observed it a week after hearing about this from Castelli, and noted it in his notebooks, says Mamajek. Those two stars, called Mizar A and Mizar B, together with Alcor, in 1857 became the first binary stars ever photographed through a telescope. In 1890, Mizar A was discovered to itself be a binary, being the first binary to be discovered using spectroscopy. In 1908, spectroscopy revealed that Mizar B was also a pair of stars, making the group the first-known quintuple star system.

Mamajek says some astronomers have raised the question of whether Alcor is truly a part of the system made up of the Mizar group of stars because Alcor's motion isn't what scientists would expect it to be if it were gravitationally connected to the Mizar group. Mamajek says that indeed Alcor is part of the same system, and that the influence of Alcor's newly discovered companion is partly responsible for Alcor's unexpected motion.

Mamajek is continuing his efforts to find planets around nearby stars, but his attention is not completely off Alcor and Mizar. "You see how the disk of Alcor B doesn't seem perfectly round?" says Mamajek, pointing toward an image of Alcor and its new companion. "Some of us have a feeling that Alcor might actually have another surprise in store for us."

About the University of Rochester

The University of Rochester (www.rochester.edu) is one of the nation's leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty through its unique cluster-based curriculum. Its College, School of Arts and Sciences, and Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Schools of Medicine and Nursing, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rochester.edu

Further reports about: Alcor Mamajek Mizar Science TV X-rays binary star system binary stars nearby star sextuplet system

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

nachricht NASA's fermi finds possible dark matter ties in andromeda galaxy
22.02.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microhotplates for a smart gas sensor

22.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists unlock ability to generate new sensory hair cells

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars

22.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>