NASA’s TESS discovers a solar system with six stars

Shane McGlaun - Jan 24, 2021, 10:59am CST
NASA’s TESS discovers a solar system with six stars

NASA’s TESS has discovered a distant star system that scientist Brian Powell says exist against all odds. Powell is a data scientist at the NASA High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. The star system in question is called TIC 168789840 and is 1900 light-years away from us.

The star system has three binary pairs of stars revolving around three different centers of mass. The trio of binary stars are gravitationally bound to one another, circling the galactic center as a single star system. Many of the star systems that TESS has discovered are triple and quadruple star systems. However, when TIC 168789840 was discovered it baffled scientists because it was mysteriously brightening and dimming.

Beyond quadruple stars, scientists say the probability of systems with more stars being identified being photometry alone is remote. Scientists also believe the probability of systems with more than four stars forming is likely quite rare. Despite the rarity, other six-star systems have been discovered.

Scientists struggle to identify this sort of system because it causes problems with algorithms used for identifying stars. For now, no exoplanets have been confirmed in the star system. Scientists know that two of the system’s binaries orbit extremely close to one another, forming their own quadruple subsystem. Researchers believe any planets orbiting that cluster would likely be ejected or engulfed by one of the four stars.

The third binary is further out orbiting the other two once every 2000 years, making it possible to have exoplanets. How exactly a six-star system formed is a mystery, but it’s very interesting that it exists at all. Hopefully, more data about the star system will be learned in the future.

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