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2012 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

Dynamical Evolution of Multiple Star Systems

Project Summary

During the past year I have performed 200,000 numerical simulations of newborn triple systems embedded in their placental gas cores. This has led to a number of surprising results, primarily a new model for the formation of extremely wide binaries, which is now in press in Nature.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
1 Publication
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The formation of very wide binaries, such as the Alpha Cen system with Proxima separated from the A/B stars by 15,000 AU, challenges current theories of star formation, as their separation can exceed the typical size of a collapsing cloud core. Various hypotheses have been proposed to overcome this problem, including the suggestion that ultra-wide binaries result from the dissolution of a cluster, when a star gravitationally captures another distant star. Recent observations have shown that very wide binaries are frequently members of triple systems and that close binaries often have a distant third companion. Here we report Nbody simulations of the dynamical evolution of newborn triple systems still embedded in their nascent cloud cores that match observations of very wide systems. We find that although the triple systems are born very compact, and therefore initially are more protected against disruption by passing stars, they can develop extreme hierarchical architectures on timescales of millions of years as one component is dynamically scattered into a very distant orbit. The energy of ejection comes from shrinking the orbits of the other two stars, often making them look like a single star. Such loosely bound triple systems will therefore appear as very wide binaries.

Example of the chaotic motions of three bodies in a triple star system. The colored lines show the trajectories of the stars. Initially the blue and green stars pair up, but following an exchange the blue and red stars be-come bound while the green star is ejected and escapes.

    Bo Reipurth
    Project Investigator

    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 1.2
    Indirect and direct astronomical observations of extrasolar habitable planets.