Charles Lada believes most stars are solitary

Here’s news about double stars that you won’t find in any astronomy textbook . . .

And that’s because it represents a complete reversal in thinking on the subject. The idea is that most stars may be solitary, after all. Consider our sun. It’s a single star, accompanied only by orbiting planets, asteroids, comets and dust. But many stars reside in double or triple star systems. For example, the very nearest star system to the sun – Alpha Centauri – is triple.

Former studies of bright, easy-to-see stars indicated that most of them lie in multiple systems, unlike our sun. The sun was thought to be unusual in being so solitary. But according to astronomer Charles Lada at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there’s a problem with those earlier studies. They neglected small, faint stars known as red dwarfs.

Astronomers have come to recognize that most red dwarfs are solitary. And most stars are red dwarfs – three-fourths of all stars, in fact. Charles Lada worked out the numbers, including red dwarfs in the earlier studies of double and triple systems. He concludes that two-thirds of all star systems are single.

Our thanks today to Research Corporation, a foundation for the advancement of science.

February 27, 2007

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