Scientists have made the finding of a lifetime that will help solve some of the most pressing mysteries of star formation. The group is Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun, a member of the Evolutionary Studies Initiative.

This year, a team led by Stassun developed a new model that dramatically improved the way stars were measured.

This star system has certain attractive traits, and Stassun says they were deciphered by merging all the different sorts of observations into a single cohesive analysis.

Predictions may be made about what kinds of exoplanets, or planets circling other stars, would be found using the model. It has been used to identify more than 100 stars discovered by the TESS satellite telescope and thousands of others. This new binary star system, two stars circling each other, had prepared the crew for nothing.

This sort of star has never been spotted before, according to Stassun: “Frankly, we would not have thought to go hunting for it—nobody has ever seen one!”

In an interview with Stassun, he revealed why this binary star system is unusual. Although binary star systems are widespread in the universe, this one has an unusual characteristic in that it is oriented in a different direction. The stars seem to merge into one another when seen from Earth. Because of this, scientists can now more readily determine the mass and brightness of the two stars.

The pulsing of stars allows astronomers to see into the inner workings of the stars, similar to how Earth scientists analyze earthquake vibrations to learn about the underlying structure of the planet. Star pulsing is unique in that it delivers two distinct views of stellar interiors. Stassun’s team discovered a star in a binary star system that displays traits from both types of stars.

While each of these traits is very unusual, a star with a combination of these characteristics is much more so, according to Stassun’s statement.

This hybrid pulsating star has a very high magnetic field, which is unusual for such a kind of star and might fill a critical gap in our existing models of stellar development.

According to Stassun, there is also “For the first time, researchers have discovered one of these unusual magnetic hybrid pulsing stars that are part of a star cluster, and that is also part of a double eclipsing system. It’s quite improbable that TESS will find another star with all of these characteristics in the same location.”

An important contribution was performed by graduate student Dax Feliz, as well. Through the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program, he became a fellow at the lab.

This is what Feliz says: “An eclipsing binary star system like this one affords a unique opportunity to study the evolution of binary stars. Star systems like HD 149834, which are found in star clusters, may aid in our knowledge of stellar development as the TESS mission continues to observe huge swaths of the sky.”

The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation was a major source of support for the project. Stassun established the center in 2018 to understand better and promote the skills of people with neurodiverse backgrounds.

To describe the center’s role in this study, Stasun said, “we have students and interns who have expertise with data visualization, and that process is becoming increasingly important for detecting rare patterns in data, such as extreme—and fascinating— ‘outliers’ such as those we discovered in this study. “

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