Imaging a multiple star

Apr 18, 2011
An optical image of the field of stars with the triple system GW Orionis at the center. Astronomers have succeeded in obtaining the first very high resolution images of this system in which two stars orbit at a separation of 1.4 AU and the third is at a distance of 8 AU.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Multiple stars - binaries, triplets, or perhaps more stars, that orbit each other - are unique laboratories into the interactions between stars and their early environments.

Young stars develop by accreting matter. How and when the accretion stops, and hence what determines a star's final mass, is among the important unsolved puzzles in astronomy. In a multiple the accretion is even more complex because it potentially involves material around each star in addition to material around the group. A better understanding of multiple stars, especially those that orbit each other closely and hence affect the accretion more strongly, can shed light on the accretion process.

CfA astronomers Nat Carleton and Marc Lacasse, together with a team of eighteen others, used the Smithsonian's Infrared Optical Telescope Array (IOTA, now retired from operation) on Mt. Hopkins, AZ, to make the first direct optical image of a triple with an orbit as small as one (one AU is the average distance of the Earth from the sun).

The astronomers were able to measure reliably the parameters of the triple system, called GW Orionis. One star has a mass of 3.6 solar-masses, and it orbits with a 3.1 solar-mass star at a distance of 1.35 AU. A third , previously inferred to exist from studies of the stellar wobble, is also imaged, and orbits the others at a distance of about 8 AU. The system is unusually bright in the near-infrared, suggesting that some accretion onto the system is still continuing, but further work is needed to sort out the answer to this question. The results highlight the power of optical telescope arrays in the investigation of close multiple stars.

Explore further: New mass map of a distant galaxy cluster is the most precise yet

Related Stories

Symbiotic Stars

Feb 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many, perhaps even most stars, are members of binaries -- two stars that orbit each other. Symbiotic stars are a small subset of binaries with an attitude: they display characteristic, dramatic, ...

There's More to the North Star Than Meets the Eye

Jan 09, 2006

We tend to think of the North Star, Polaris, as a steady, solitary point of light that guided sailors in ages past. But there is more to the North Star than meets the eye - two faint stellar companions. The ...

Simulating the Birth of Massive Stars

Mar 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers have made great strides recently in understanding how modest stars - those like the sun or smaller -- are formed.

Recommended for you

Satellite galaxies put astronomers in a spin

18 hours ago

An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), has studied 380 galaxies and shown that their small satellite galaxies almost always ...

Video: The diversity of habitable zones and the planets

18 hours ago

The field of exoplanets has rapidly expanded from the exclusivity of exoplanet detection to include exoplanet characterization. A key step towards this characterization is the determination of which planets occupy the Habitable ...

Ultra-deep astrophoto of the Antenna Galaxies

18 hours ago

You might think the image above of the famous Antenna Galaxies was taken by a large ground-based or even a space telescope. Think again. Amateur astronomer Rolf Wahl Olsen from New Zealand compiled a total ...

The most precise measurement of an alien world's size

20 hours ago

Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nik_2213
not rated yet Apr 18, 2011
A couple of arrows to disambiguate that star-field would be nice...
Still, resolving 1AU at that distance is astonishing !! "GW Orionis is a single-line spectroscopic binary Classical T Tauri Star with an orbital period of 242 days located at 400 pc (Mathieu et al)"
d_robison
not rated yet Apr 18, 2011
A couple of arrows to disambiguate that star-field would be nice...
Still, resolving 1AU at that distance is astonishing !! "GW Orionis is a single-line spectroscopic binary Classical T Tauri Star with an orbital period of 242 days located at 400 pc (Mathieu et al)"


I agree, ~1 AU at this distance is an amazing feat for optical telescopes.