This Bizarre System Has Six Stars Orbiting Each Other

TESS previously revealed that Thuban, a former North Star, is also an eclipse binary as shown here. Three such pairs form a newly discovered sextuple star system called TYC 7037-89-1. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Chris Smith (USRA)

Of all the strange wonders in space, there are some examples of elegance that are more beautiful than we can imagine. One such example is the TYC 7037-89-1 star system, recently identified by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which contains six stars orbiting each other in an elaborate pattern.

It is relatively common to find binary systems with two stars orbiting the same center, or even triple systems with three stars. But six stars in a system are most unusual.

This particular system consists of three pairs of binary files whose orbits are interlocked. Three of the stars – referred to as primary stars in each binary pair – are larger than the Sun and are roughly the same temperature. The other stars – the so-called secondary stars – are half the size of the sun and about a third of its heat.

“The system has three binary files (A, B, and C) with cycle times between one and eight days, arranged in a hierarchical order,” said Saul Rappaport, a researcher at the MIT Department of Physics, in a statement. “The A binary orbits the C binary with a period of several years, while the B binary orbits the AC quadruple system with a period of several thousand years.

“The amazing thing is that all three binaries have their orbital planes so well aligned with our line of sight that we can see from all eclipses. This is despite the large differences between the three binary files. “

NASA made a diagram to show how this system works:

This diagram shows the configuration of the TYC 7037-89-1 sextuple star system.  The inner quad is made up of two binary files, A and C, that orbit each other roughly every four years.  An outer binary number B orbits four times approximately every 2,000 years.  All three pairs obscure binary files.  The orbits shown are not true to scale. This diagram shows the configuration of the TYC 7037-89-1 sextuple star system. The inner quad is made up of two binary files, A and C, that orbit each other roughly every four years. An outer binary number B orbits four times approximately every 2,000 years. All three pairs obscure binary files. The orbits shown are not true to scale. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

TESS usually hunts for planets, not star systems, but the method used can be applied to stars as well. Systems like this are interesting not only because they are rare, but also because they can give scientists clues as to how systems form and develop. In this case, the researchers believe that this system may originally have been a binary system of two stars that captured a third star before all three stars were then fragmented to create the six stars now seen.

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