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New Close-up Shows Binary Stars in Orion’s Heart

New Close-up Shows Binary Stars in Orion’s Heart
Left: Zooming into the center of the Orion star-forming region with the four bright Trapezium stars (Theta1 Orionis A-D). The dominant star is Theta1 Orionis C, which was imaged with unprecedented resolution with the VLT interferometer (lower right). Right: The orbit of the binary system (grey line). The size of the orbit of Jupiter around our sun is shown for comparison. Collage: MPIfR (Stefan Kraus), ESO, NASA,HST.

This story was updated at 1:02 p.m. EDT.

Astronomershave caught their sharpest look of a double star system deep in the heart ofthe Orion nebula.

The resultis an ultra-clear glimpse of Theta 1 Orionis C, a mismatched pair of stars lockedin orbit around one another about 1,350 light-years from Earth.

Oncethought to be a single star, Theta 1 Orionis C is the brightest and mostdominant stellar system inside the dense star-forming region of Orion?s beautifulTrapezium Cluster. Infrared views of the system ultimately showed its dualnature, which shines through with renewed clarity in the new image.

Researchersused the European Southern Observatory?s Very Large Telescope Interferometer(VLTI), which combines data from multiple telescopes into one image, to makethe new observation.

TheChile-based observatory yielded a photograph with a resolution of about 2milliarcseconds. That?s about the equivalent of how a car on the moon wouldlook to a human staring at it from the surface of the Earth, or the view from ahypothetical space telescope with a 426-foot (130-meter) main mirror. Forcomparison, the main mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope isabout 7.8 feet (2.4 meters) wide.

?Ourobservations demonstrate the fascinating new imaging capabilities of the VLTI,?said study co-investigator Gerd Weigelt of the Max-Planck-Institute for RadioAstronomy. ?This infrared interferometry technique will certainly lead to manyfundamental new discoveries.?

In additionto the new image of Theta 1 Orionis C, Weigelt and colleague Stefan Kraus foundthat the stars orbit each other once every 11 years. The smaller of the pair isabout nine times as massive as the sun, while its larger partner weighs in at whopping38 solar masses.

Solar windfrom the paired stars shapes the disks of protoplanetary dust of other nearbystars, researchers said. The new images and data will help astronomers betterunderstand howmassive stars form within the Orion nebula, they added.

Theresearch, announced today, is detailed in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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