A puzzling triple star system discovered by citizen scientists working on TESS planet hunters

Artistic impression of an intriguing triple star system where the third star is more massive than the combined mass of the two stars in the binary. Credit: Nora Eisner

The Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project asks volunteers to help discover new planets orbiting other stars. But thirty thousand pairs of eyes searching through data collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are leading to many exciting discoveries, including discoveries that have nothing to do with planets. Now, citizen scientists working on the project have discovered a strange, unbalanced system made up of three very massive stars orbiting one another very quickly — a rare combination that has scientists wondering how this system could have formed. .

Two of the stars orbit each other in just 1.1 days. The third star is much slower, taking 52 days to orbit the first two – and this third star has more mass than the other two combined. Did the two stars capture the third? Did all the stars form much further away and move closer together to give us the compact configuration we see now? The future evolution of this system is also interesting; given the high masses of the three stars, this system will likely end its life with a splash of gravitational waves!

For more information on this puzzling triple of stars, read the Planet Hunters TESS blog. Or join the Planet Hunters TESS project and help find rarer exoplanets and astronomical objects!

NASA Citizen Science Program:
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