Jul 30, 2022 - Science

Scientists discover "first of its kind" triple star system

A quadruple star system seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

A star system like the one detailed in this story with two sets of binary stars. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

Scientists have discovered a special, massive triple star system like nothing they've seen before.

Why it matters: By learning more about these types of star systems, astronomers are able to piece together a better idea of how stars and planets form throughout the universe.

What they found: The system consists of two stars orbiting one another in a binary and the third orbiting the binary, according to a study published at the end of June in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

  • The two stars in the binary combined are 12 times larger than the Sun, and the third star is 16 times the mass of the Sun.
  • "As far as we know, it is the first of its kind ever detected," Alejandro Vigna-Gómez, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.
  • "We know of many tertiary star systems (three star systems), but they are typically significantly less massive. The massive stars in this triple are very close together — it is a compact system."

The big picture: The scientists behind the discovery think that this system likely formed as two sets of binaries orbiting one another.

  • One of the stars in the outer binary then merged with its companion, leaving one massive star to orbit the other binary.

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