Astronomers, for the first time, have spotted a multiple-star system at its earliest stage of formation. The finding also supports one of the suggested mechanisms responsible for the production of such systems. The discovery has been published in the journal Nature. Jaime Pineda of the Institute for Astronomy (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland led the team of researchers. The team was studying a dense core of gas called Barnard 5 (B5) in the “stellar nursery” region of the constellation Perseus when it discovered the quadruple star system. In its core, there was a young protostar and three dense condensations. Scientists believe that in about 40,000 years they will eventually form stars and in astronomical terms this a relatively short time.
Pineda stated “We know that these stars eventually will form a multi-star system because our observations show that these gas condensations are gravitationally bound. This is the first time we’ve been able to show that such a young system is gravitationally bound.” The researchers observed fragmentation of the filaments of gas in B5 and these fragments are gradually forming additional stars, leading to the formation of a multiple-star system.
Pineda commented “This provides fantastic evidence that fragmentation of gas filaments is a process that can produce multiple-star systems.” Fragmentation of the main gas core, fragmentation within a disk of material orbiting a young star and gravitational capture are other suggested theories. Pineda added “We’ve now convincingly added fragmentation of gas filaments to this list.” The discovery was made with the aid of the Very Large Array (VLA), an astronomical radio observatory in New Mexico, and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope in West Virginia.
Pineda also mentioned “Nearly half of all stars are in multiple systems, but catching such systems at the very early stages of formation has been challenging. Thanks to the combination of the VLA and the GBT, we now have some important new insight into how multiple systems form. Our next step will be to look at other star-forming regions using the new capabilities of the VLA and of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.”