Brian Powell, a data scientist at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center, said, “The system exists against obstacles that mysteriously shined and receded about 1,900 light-years away. The source, named TIC 168789840, is one of binary stars. There is a system of three pairs: three different stellar pairs revolve around three different centers of mass, but all three are bound to each other with the rest of gravity and circling the galactic center as a single star system. Huh.
“Just the fact that it exists keeps my mind going,” said Powell, the first author. “I would just like to be in a spaceship, park next to this thing and see it in person.”
Eclipse in lightcovers
The width of TESS’s observations covers almost the entire sky, allowing for the identification of multiple candidate multiple star systems through the analysis of eclipses in lightcovers. Collaboration between the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the MIT Kavali Institute, coupled with expert visual surveyors, has found well over 100 triple and quadruple star system candidates.
Most systems are quadruple
TESS has a large number of discovered triplets quadruple and quadruple star systems, followed by triples since it began exploring the galaxy in 2018 for exoplanet. But Starlight’s source was mysteriously bright and about 1,900 light-years away, “reports George George Andrews for the New York Times,” can top all those discoveries for their science fiction-like grandeur. “
“However, quadruple systems are much rarer than quadruple systems,” NASA reports, “that the outer orbit of a large star in a hierarchical triple is essential for stability, substantially reducing the probability that the third star. The eclipse or disturbance would be blind. Seen in a tight lightcurve. Beyond quadruple stars, systems with more stars identified through photometry alone are likely remote, since the formation of the sextuple system is quite rare. Is organized in such a way that each binary must be oriented in such a way that they are all receptive. “
A unique system
Although many of the other six-star systems have been discovered, Andrews reports about NASA’s TES discovery, the first in which the stars within and behind each of those three pairs are facing each other. Passing through, at least from the standpoint of the TESS Space Telescope, eclipsing another member of his stellar ballet.
“These are the types of signals that algorithms really struggle with,” said lead author Weslin Kostov, a NASA postdoctoral fellow working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “The human eye is very good at finding patterns in data, especially non-periodic patterns such as those we see in transit from these systems.”
Although exoplanets have yet to be confirmed within the star system, only one of these pairs can have a planet. The two binaries of the system come very close to each other, forming their own quadruple subsystem. Any planet will be likely to be evicted or attached to one of four stars. The third binary is out, circling 2,000 years or more once every two years, making it a possible foreign asset.
Its origin is a mystery
Andrews concludes, “Until we find others like this, the origin of this dizzying six-star system will remain a puzzle.” “Just the fact that it exists keeps my mind going,” said Powell, the first author. “I would just like to be in a spaceship, park next to this thing and see it in person.”
In 2019, TESS discovered its first circulating planet on its TOI 1338, a world orbiting two stars, 1,300 light years away in the constellation Painter. The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10% larger than our Sun, while the other is cold, dim and only one-third of the Sun’s mass. TOI 1338B is the only known planet in the system. It is about 6.9 times larger than the Earth, or between the size of Neptune and Saturn. The planet orbits nearly the same plane as the stars, so it experiences regular stellar eclipses.
The Daily Galaxy, Jake Burba, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Arxiv.org via PDF and New York Times Science
Image credit: NASA / MIT / TES depicts the 13-field mosaic of the spacecraft of the southern sky recorded over the course of a year. An object shown in a mosaic is the long, bright edge of our Milky Way galaxy.