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Archive for June 16, 2014

Binary Stars Are More Common Than We Thought


High-mass stars are rarely solitary. This is what Bochum’s astronomers found out at the Ruhr-Universität’s (RUB’s) observatory in Chile. For several years, they observed 800 celestial objects that are up to one hundred times heavier than our sun. More than 90 per cent have turned out to be multiple systems. These data support the theory that heavy stars are already formed as twins.

Even with the world’s largest telescopes, binary stars cannot generally be distinguished as two discrete points. In order to prove their existence nevertheless, the team headed by Prof Dr Rolf Chini from the RUB Institute of Astronomy used a trick. They watched the celestial bodies over a period of many weeks and months and detected that their spectra and their brightness oscillated. Regular brightness variations occur if two or more stars pass each other again and again. These long-term measurements were possible only because the Ruhr-Universität operates its own observatory in the best place for astronomical observations worldwide: the Atacama Desert in Chile.

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