Chandra observation of RXJ0806+1527
Credit: Light curve: NASA/CXC/GSFC/T. Strohmayer; Illustration: GSFC/D. Berry

Dancing Dwarfs

Stars often form in pairs. And the smaller they are, the closer they can be. The Chandra X-ray Observatory has recently shown that an X-ray source called RX J0806.3+1527, is apparently a double star system. A peculiar aspect of this system is that it shows periodic X-ray variations (as shown in the left side of the figure above) and optical variations, too, with a period of only 5 minutes Most likely this represents orbital motion, and if it does it means that the star and its companion must be separated by only 50,000 miles, and the orbital speeds are enormous - more than one million miles an hour. Another peculiar property is that the system must radiate gravity waves - and in fact the system would be the brightest source of gravitational radiation yet identified. The illustration above right shows the binary system causing gravity waves, "ripples in spacetime". The loss of energy from the system by gravity waves means that the stars should eventually merge - an produce an extremely bright supernova.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:20:51 EDT