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Astronomers chance on mysterious binary companions – astronomy now



An oversized exoplanet – or a small brown dwarf – can be seen to the right of an overexposed binary star system embedded in a cloud of dust. The alleged exoplanet apparently has its own dust disk. Image: This infographic shows the CS Cha binary star system embedded in a surrounding dust disk and a newly discovered companion body orbiting 32 billion kilometers (20 billion miles) away. Picture: C. Ginski / G.A. Muro Arena

A team of Dutch researchers at Leiden University found a small, mysterious companion in a binary star system that they observed with the Very Large Telescope. They suspect that it is a baby planet, albeit a big one, with a possible dust disk for itself.

In short, it will probably still grow. Whatever it is.

"The most exciting part is that the companion's light is highly polarized," said Christian Ginski, lead author of an article describing the discovery. "Such bias toward polarization usually occurs when light is scattered along the way, and we suspect that the fellow is surrounded by its own dust disk."

The "difficult part," he added, "is, that the disk blocks a large part of the light, and therefore we can hardly determine the mass of the disk companion, so it could be a brown dwarf but also a super Jupiter in its toddler years.The classic planet formation models can not help us. "[1

9659006] This infographic shows the CS Cha binary star system, embedded in a surrounding dust disk, and a newly discovered companion body 32 billion miles away. Picture: C. Ginski / G.A. Muro Arena

The Companion orbits the binary star system CSa about 538 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Chameleon. After discovering the mysterious body, Ginski and his team went back through the archive and found a much weaker version in photos taken 19 years ago by the Hubble Space Telescope. It also showed in 11-year recordings of the VLT, proving that the companion is part of the binary system.

The surprising discovery of the smaller body was made with the SPHERE instrument at the Very Large Telescope. SPHERE can image exoplanets and dust particles directly by capturing reflected polarized light.


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