U.K. astronomers see 'snooker' star system

Nov. 9, 2010 at 8:49 PM   |   Comments

WARWICK, England, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- U.K. astronomers say a recently discovered star system looks like, and may have once behaved like, a game of snooker or billiards.

Researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Sheffield, as part of an international team, helped discover this "snooker-like" star system through observations and analysis of data from an astronomical camera known as ULTRACAM designed by British scientists on the team, a Warwick release said Tuesday.

They looked at a binary star system is 1,670 light years away from Earth consisting of two stars, a red dwarf and a white dwarf, which orbit each other in an incredibly close, tight orbit.

Further analysis by Warwick and Sheffield astronomers confirmed two massive giant gas planets were also a part of the system.

The overall shape of the system, and how it came to exist, made the British members of the research team think of the game of snooker.

"The two gas giants have different masses but they may actually be roughly the same size as each other, and in fact will also be roughly the same size as the red dwarf star they orbit," Professor Tom Marsh from the University of Warwick's Department of Physics said.

"If they follow the patterns we see in our own star system of gas giants with a dominant yellow or blue colors, then it's hard to escape the image of this system as being like a giant snooker frame with a red ball, two colored balls, and dwarf white cue ball."

And as in a game of billiards, the White Dwarf "cue ball" of the system may have suffered, and caused, violent changes to its own orbit and the orbit of all the planets and stars in the system, the researchers say.

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