Star system that resembles a game of snookerBy IANS
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
LONDON - Astronomers have discovered an unusual star system which looks like a game of snooker.
Experts from the Warwick and Sheffield universities in Britain were part of an international consortium which played a key role in discovering the ’snooker-like’ star system.
They looked at a binary star system called NN Serpentis which is 1,670 light years away from Earth.
NN Serpentis is actually a binary star system consisting of two stars, a red dwarf and a white dwarf, which orbit each other in an incredibly close, tight orbit, reports the Daily Mail.
Earth sits in the same plane as this binary star system, so astronomers can see the larger red dwarf eclipse the white dwarf every three hours and seven minutes.
Astronomers were able to use these incredibly frequent eclipses to spot a pattern of small but significant irregularities in the orbit of stars.
Thus, they were able to help demonstrate that the pattern must be due to the presence and gravitational influence of two massive gas giant planets.
By lucky chance Earth sits in the same plane as this binary star system, so we can see the larger red dwarf eclipse the white dwarf every 3 hours and 7 minutes.
It was already thought that there may be at least one planet orbiting these two stars.
The more massive gas giant is about six times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the binary star every 15.5 years, the other orbits every 7.75 years and is about 1.6 times the mass of Jupiter.
Professor Tom Marsh, physicist from the University of Warwick, said: “The two gas giants have different masses but they may actually be roughly the same size as each other, and in fact will also be roughly the same size as the red dwarf star they orbit.”