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December 9 2012

Double Star Systems May Be Hiding a Third Companion


Pairs of stars with separations five hundred times the size of the solar system could be triplets in disguise. New research indicates that many of the known wide binaries (double star systems) may have once contained three stars, and many could still harbor a third.

Bound together by gravity, binary stars make a large percentage of the universe. While most are close, some pairs can orbit with separations thousands of times larger than the distance between the Earth and the sun, known as an astronomical unit. But the wide spread between the two stars means that they couldn't have formed in the same cloud of dust and gas, leaving astronomers to puzzle over how they formed.

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