Dance of the stars

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Astronomers have found a stellar system made up of five stars, two binary systems orbiting each other, with a fifth star orbiting one of the stars in one of the binaries.

Co-author Dr Markus Lohr, from the Open University, told BBC News that these contact binaries were stars that orbit so closely they share an outer atmosphere. The other star pair – a detached binary – has a separation distance of some three million km. The two binaries orbit in the same plane at a distance of 21 billion km.

Follow-up observations of different wavelengths of light coming from the star system uncovered a fifth star, which is linked to the detached binary star. “This is a truly exotic star system. In principle there’s no reason why it couldn’t have planets in orbit around each of the pairs of stars. Any inhabitants would have a sky that would put the makers of Star Wars to shame,” Dr. Lohr said. “There could sometimes be no fewer than five Suns of different brightnesses lighting up the landscape.”

Dr. Lohr is being a bit extravagant. Though planets are a possibility here, I suspect it very unlikely that they are habitable.

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