Astronomers have discovered an unusual star system which looks like a game of snooker.
Experts from Warwick and Sheffield universities were part of an international consortium who played a key role in discovering the “snooker-like” star system.
They looked at a binary star system called NN Serpentis which is 1,670 light years away from Earth.
NN Serpentis is actually a binary star system consisting of two stars, a red dwarf and a white dwarf, which orbit each other in an incredibly close, tight orbit.
Earth sits in the same plane as this binary star system, so astronomers can see the larger red dwarf eclipse the white dwarf every three hours and seven minutes.
Astronomers were able to use these incredibly frequent eclipses to spot a pattern of small but significant irregularities in the orbit of stars and were able to help demonstrate that that pattern must be due to the presence and gravitational influence of two massive gas giant planets.
Professor Tom Marsh, from the University of Warwick’s department of physics, said: “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.
“If they follow the patterns we see in our own star system of gas giants with dominant yellow or blue colours, then it’s hard to escape the image of this system as being like a giant snooker frame with a red ball, two coloured balls, and a dwarf white cue ball.”
Professor Vik Dhillon from the University of Sheffield, said: “If these planets were born along with their parent stars they would have had to survive a dramatic event a million years ago: when the original primary star bloated itself into a red giant, causing the secondary star to plunge down into the present very tight orbit, thereby casting off most of the original mass of the primary. Planetary orbits would have seen vast disturbances.
“Alternatively, the planets may have formed very recently from the cast off material. Either way, in relatively recent times in astronomical terms this system will have seen a vast shock to the orbits of the stars and planets, all initiated by what is now the white dwarf at the heart of the system.”
The full research paper is published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.