The Stellar Nursery: Quadruplets On The Way

When you think of a star system, the thought of our own lonesome Sun is the first to come to mind. Interestingly enough, this would be incorrect. More than half of all stars are in multiple systems – that is, they have more than one star. While we are familiar with binary star systems, there is also the possibility of triple or even quadruple star systems.

Alyssa Goodman and her associates at Harvard have reported that not too far from our own galaxy there appears to be the emergence of what looks like the beginnings of a quadruple star system. Located in the direction of the Perseus constellation is a protostar (the protostellar phase is an early stage in star formation) that astronomers have been aware of for the last few decades. However, Professor Goodman has shown that in addition to this soon-to-be star, there are three other areas where stellar gas is condensed enough to become a site for future stars.

At the moment, these gas clusters are approximately two to three times more massive than that of the protostar, and are expected to become true stars in 40,000 or so years. These may, in turn, be ejected from the star system due to their orbital motions, but there is a definite possibility that we may end up with a bonafide quadruple star system.

The team used radio wavelength observation of the dense clusters of gas, specifically ammonia, in order to detect these fledgling stars. The complex of gas, located roughly 825 light years away, may supply data to reformulate how multiple star systems are formed.

There are currently two major competing theories: A single star may break apart in the early stages of formation; these fragments then collect surrounding gas to become individual stars. Alternatively, a single “fully grown” star may, through gravitational pull, attract another star into its orbit. Computer modeling shows that both of these are definite possibilities, but astronomers have yet to find any definitive data.

Professor Goodman’s data, however, suggests that multiple star systems may in fact be formed very early on rather than through the two current theories on star formation. The formation, which was initially observed earlier this month, has generated a storm of possibilities about how stars come to be…well, stars.