Tatooine is perhaps passé now and the latest is the five star system that has been spotted by astronomers high up in the celestial territory.
Both sets of binary stars are separated by around 21 billion km – a distance that is larger than Pluto’s orbit around the Sunday.
Dr Marcus Lohr, of the Open University, who is at the National Astronomy Meeting at Venue Cymru today, described the newly found star system as “exotic”.
Astronomers have discovered a very rare group of five connected stars amid skies that would “put the makers of Star Wars to shame”.
The system, located 250 light-years from Earth, was originally detected in archived data from the SuperWASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) project, a configuration of small, low-priced cameras at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos in the Canary Islands, and at the Sutherland Station of the South African Astronomical Observatory.
Measurements of the brightness of individual stars are, over years, assembled into light curves – plots of brightness against time. Researchers calculated the mass using the blink in light the stars cause when they pass each other and through wavelength data. A binary star is exactly what it sounds like: two stars caught in an orbit around each other.
“Any inhabitants of the planets would have a sky that would put the makers of Star Wars to shame”.
The two binaries, as Lohr and his team noted in the 2013 paper, are a type of binary called an eclipsing binary.
‘They would though miss out on night for a large part of their “year”, only experiencing darkness, and a night sky, when the stars were on the same side of their world.’.
While astronomers say around a third of the stars in the universe are in pairs or inhabit multiple systems, five stars is a single system is rare – although not entirely unknown.
The first analysis revealed a contact eclipsing binary, two stars orbiting each other so closely they share an outer atmosphere. Their new study, while not confirming extraterrestrial life, details the universe’s first quintuple star system containing two eclipsing binary stars. All the stars are smaller and cooler than our Sun, but the system together is bright enough to be visible by small telescopes. In studying the light of each star separately, astronomers found a fifth star rotating around the second binary pair. By calculating the star’s light, astronomers came to know two stars were orbiting each other. Amateur astronomers should be able to see the eclipses for themselves; the system, at a 9th magnitude, is located in the constellation Ursa Major.