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NASA Kepler Telescope Maps 19 'Heartbeat' Stars in a Single Study

Nov 24, 2016 03:18 AM EST
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Dubbed as the largest group of heartbeat stars ever mapped in one study, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists discovered 19 heartbeat star systems with the use of the space agency's Kepler Telescope.

Heartbeat stars are pairs of binary stars, or systems of two stars orbiting each other. They got their name because of their varying brightness over time, which if you were to trace would form an up and down line similar to that of an electrocardiogram, the graph that shows the electrical activity of the heart, Space.com reports.

The study led by Avi Shporer, a researcher at California Institute of Technology, published in the Astrophysical Journal, followed up on known heartbeat stars, previously identified by the Kepler mission. In previous years, the Kepler space telescope has led NASA scientists to the discovery of several heartbeat star systems. These include the KOI-54 start that shows an increase in brightness every 41.8 days in 2011, and 17 other heartbeat stars found in 2012.

An official statement by NASA said, "Specifically, they used an instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory telescope in Hawaii called the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES), which measures the wavelengths of incoming light, which are stretched out when a star is moving away from us and shorter in motion toward us."

According to the space agency, this information allows astronomers to calculate the speed of the objects along the line of sight, and measure the shape of the orbit.

On the other hand, Shporer revealed, "We found that the heartbeat stars in our sample tend to be hotter than the sun and bigger than the sun. But it is possible that there are others with different temperature ranges that we did not yet measure."

With the study hinting that some binary systems of heartbeat stars could have a third star in the system that has not yet been detected, or even a fourth star, researchers are currently pushing for follow-up studies. "We look forward to continued collaboration between ground and space observatories to better understand the complex inner workings of heartbeat stars," Shporer said.

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