Astronomers have captured the birth of a multiple star system

A triple star system forming within a dense gas filament. The colour indicates the gas density, where lighter colours are higher densities. The image is about 10,000 astronomical units across. Image: UMass Amherst

Astrophysicists have witnessed for the first time the formation of a quadruple star system from a gas cloud in the Perseus constellation.

The star system consists of a young star still in an early development phase and three gas clouds which are rapidly condensing by gravitational forces.

According the astrophysicists’ calculations, each gas cloud will develop into a star in 40,000 years.

The stars may be relatively small and only reach around one-tenth the mass of our sun. The space between the individual stars amounts to more than a thousand times the average distance between the sun and the earth.

“Star systems with more than three members are unstable and prone to interference,” says Jaime Pineda, now at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who is the first author of a study published in Nature.

The most probable scenario is that the quadruple will disintegrate and only last for a “short” time.

By astronomical standards, the estimated 40,000 years are “exceptionally fast”, says Pineda.

An artist’s impression of the birth of a star quartet. The left panel shows the star and three dense gas condensations system. The right panel shows the system after the stars are formed out of the condensations. Image: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Pineda is member of a research collaboration that observed the star system and simulated its genesis and demise.

At the time of the discovery, he was working as a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Michael Meyer’s group at the ETH Zurich Institute of Astronomy.

Astrophysicists from several US and European universities, including Harvard, Yale, Manchester and Liverpool John Moores universities, were also involved in the project.

The researchers made their observations at the Very Large Array in the US.

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