An illustration of two contacting stars — part of the newly discovered bizarre five-star system.
Scientists have discovered an absolutely bizarre star system about 250 light years away, in the constellation Ursa Major.
The system (officially known as 1SWASP J093010.78+533859.5) features five stars that are all gravitationally bound together. Two orbit each other in what’s called a contact eclipsing binary, meaning they’re so close together that they actually share an atmosphere, with gases flowing between them.
Another two stars also orbit each other, but at a much greater distance — about 1.8 million miles, which is more than twice the diameter of the sun. Another star hangs out near that pair, but doesn’t appear to orbit them.
Systems that include five stars gravitationally bound together are rare, though not unprecedented (astronomers have actually found systems that include as many as six stars). But this is the first one ever found that includes multiple pairs of stars orbiting each other.
The discoverers of the strange system — a team of astronomers from Open University in the UK and elsewhere — presented all these discoveries in a new paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. Thanks to George Dvorsky at io9 for bringing it to our attention.