A cosmic duo: discovering the tiniest star yet

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In the vast expanse of the universe, astronomers are constantly uncovering new wonders. Recently, an international team of astronomers made a groundbreaking discovery that challenges our understanding of the stars above us.

Published in Nature Astronomy, their research unveils the smallest star known to date, which forms part of a binary system—a pair of stars orbiting each other.

For a long time, scientists believed that red dwarfs were the smallest stars out there. However, recent studies have shifted this perspective, shining a light on hot subdwarfs as the new titleholders for the smallest known stars.

These stars are fascinating because they burn helium in their cores and are often found in groups within galaxies.

The star at the heart of this discovery is part of a binary system named J0526, located around 2,760 light years away from Earth.

The system consists of two stars: J0526A, a larger unseen white dwarf, and J0526B, the hot subdwarf that has taken the crown as the smallest known star.

J0526B is notably tiny, about seven times the size of Earth, making it smaller than the planet Saturn. It also boasts a scorching surface temperature of around 2,226°C. Remarkably, it orbits its larger companion every 20 minutes, marking the shortest known binary orbit.

The existence of this binary system supports a theory proposed over two decades ago by a Chinese research team. They theorized that it was possible for small stars to exist within binary systems, and the discovery of J0526 brings this idea to light.

The initial observation of the J0526 system was made using the Tsinghua University-Ma Huateng Telescope for Survey in China. Further investigations and confirmations came from utilizing additional data gathered from larger telescopes around the globe.

This collaborative effort not only confirmed the existence of the binary system and its characteristics but also opened up new questions about the nature of stars.

This finding is particularly exciting because it challenges previous notions about the minimum size of stars. J0526B’s discovery suggests that there might be even smaller stars out there, possibly with properties and behaviors that are yet to be understood.

The implications of this discovery are vast. It not only adds a new member to the celestial family but also prompts a reevaluation of our understanding of stellar formation and the diversity of stars in our universe.

As astronomers continue to explore the cosmos, we can expect to uncover more secrets and surprises that lie beyond our current knowledge. This discovery is a reminder of the endless mysteries waiting to be unraveled in the vast expanse of space.

The research findings can be found in Nature Astronomy.

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