A team of astronomers have used the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Hawaii to discover four pairs of stars that orbit each other in less than 4 hours. Until now it was thought that such close-in binary stars could not exist. The new discoveries come from the telescope's Wide Field Camera (WFCAM) Transit Survey, and appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Caption: This artist's impression shows the tightest of the new record breaking binary systems. Two active M4 type red dwarfs orbit each other every 2.5 hours, as they continue to spiral inwards. Eventually they will coalesce into a single star. Credit: J. Pinfield, for the RoPACS network
Dr Robert MasseyRoyal Astronomical SocietyTel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582 x214Mob: +44 (0)794 124 firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com)
Bas NefsLeiden ObservatoryTel: +31 (0)71 527 8439Mob: +31 (0)6 4159 firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com)
Dr Jayne BirkbyLeiden ObservatoryTel: +31 (0)71527 firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com)
Dr David PinfieldUniversity of HertfordshireLeads the European ROPACS network: http://star.herts.ac.uk/RoPACS/ (http://star.herts.ac.uk/RoPACS/) and is co-PI of the WFCAM Transit Survey (WTS).Tel: +44 (0)1707 firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com)
Dr Simon HodgkinInstitute of AstronomyUniversity of Cambridge(Co-PI of WTS)Tel: +44 (0)1223 firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com)(http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/ (http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/))
The team publish their work in the paper, "Four ultra-short period eclipsing M-dwarf binaries in the WFCAM Transit Survey", S. V. Nefs et al, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press. A preprint of the paper can be downloaded from http://arxiv.org/abs/1206.1200 (http://arxiv.org/abs/1206.1200)
Notes for editors
With a 3.8 metre diameter mirror, the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT: http://www.jach.hawaii.edu/UKIRT/ (http://www.jach.hawaii.edu/UKIRT/)) is the second largest dedicated infrared telescope in the world. Sited at an altitude of 4200 m on the top of the volcano Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii, it began operations in 1979. UKIRT is carrying out the UKIRT Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS: http://www.ukidss.org/ (http://www.ukidss.org/)) searching for objects from nearby brown dwarfs to distant quasars. In 2012 the UKIDSS team received the RAS Group Award.
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS, www.ras.org.uk (http://www.ras.org.uk)), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.
Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc