Skip to main content

Hubble catches a baby star pulsating in a triple star system

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image captures a triple-star star system.
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a triple-star star system. NASA, ESA, G. Duchene (Universite de Grenoble I); Image Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

A gorgeous new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a triple star system, where three stars are working in tandem to create a reflection nebula. The trio of stars are located 550 light-years away, and include one particular star, HP Tau, that is like a younger version of our sun and will eventually grow up to be a similar hydrogen-fueled star in millions of years’ time.

At the moment, HP Tau is less than 10 million years old, compared to the 4.6 billion year age of the sun. It is currently a type of star called a T Tauri star, which is a variable type of star that changes in brightness over time. There are two reasons that a star will be variable: Either it stays the same brightness, but it appears to be more or less bright from Earth because of factors like dust getting in the way of our view of it, or the star is actually changing its brightness levels over time.

Some variable stars are predictable and change brightness over a fixed period, such as Cepheid variables, which pulsate in a predictable manner with a relationship between their overall brightness and the speed at which the changes in brightness happen. That makes Cepheid variables extremely important in astronomy, as their pulses can be used as mile markers to tell how far away they are — which makes them part of the “cosmic distance ladder,” which is key for cosmology research.

But other stars vary their brightness in unpredictable ways — like the nearby star Betelgeuse, which was once one of the brightest objects in the sky, but whose brightness has fluctuated wildly in recent years. In that case, some astronomers thought that Betelgeuse was changing in brightness because it was coming to the end of its life and was about to go supernova, but more recent research suggests that the star actually produced a cloud of material that blocked some of its light, making it appear dimmer.

As for HP Tau, this star appears to be changing in brightness in both predictable and unpredictable ways: unpredictable because its actual brightness is fluctuating as its grows through the early stage of its life, and predictable because it has large sunspots. As NASA explains: “The random variations may be due to the chaotic nature of a developing young star, such as instabilities in the accretion disk of dust and gas around the star, material from that disk falling onto the star and being consumed, and flares on the star’s surface. The periodic changes may be due to giant sunspots rotating in and out of view.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Hubble captures the dramatic jets of a baby star
FS Tau is a multi-star system made up of FS Tau A, the bright star-like object near the middle of the image, and FS Tau B (Haro 6-5B), the bright object to the far right that is partially obscured by a dark, vertical lane of dust. The young objects are surrounded by softly illuminated gas and dust of this stellar nursery. The system is only about 2.8 million years old, very young for a star system. Our Sun, by contrast, is about 4.6 billion years old.

A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the drama that unfolds as a new star is born. Within a swirling cloud of dust and gas, a newly formed star is giving off powerful jets that blast away material and cut through the nearby dust of the surrounding nebula to create this stunning vista.

The image shows a system called FS Tau, located 450 light-years away in a region called Taurus-Auriga. Within this region are many stellar nurseries with new stars forming, making it a favorite target for astronomers studying star formation. But this particular system stands out for the dramatic nature of its newborn star, which has formed an epic structure called a Herbig-Haro object.

Read more
Hubble images the spooky Spider Galaxy
This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the irregular galaxy UGC 5829.

This week's image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows an irregular galaxy, the spindly arms and clawed shape of which has led to it being named the Spider Galaxy. Located 30 million light-years away, the galaxy also known as UGC 5829 is an irregular galaxy that lacks the clear, orderly arms seen in spiral galaxies like the Milky Way.

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the irregular galaxy UGC 5829. ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Tully, M. Messa

Read more
The expansion rate of the universe still has scientists baffled
This image of NGC 5468, a galaxy located about 130 million light-years from Earth, combines data from the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes. This is the most distant galaxy in which Hubble has identified Cepheid variable stars. These are important milepost markers for measuring the expansion rate of the Universe. The distance calculated from Cepheids has been cross-correlated with a Type Ia supernova in the galaxy. Type Ia supernovae are so bright they are used to measure cosmic distances far beyond the range of the Cepheids, extending measurements of the Universe’s expansion rate deeper into space.

The question of how fast the universe is expanding continues to confound scientists. Although it might seem like a fairly straightforward issue, the reality is that it has been perplexing the best minds in physics and astronomy for decades -- and new research using the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope doesn't make the answer any clearer.

Scientists know that the universe is expanding over time, but what they can't agree on is the rate at which this is happening -- called the Hubble constant. There are two main methods used to estimate this constant: one that looks at how fast distant galaxies are moving away from us, and one that looks at leftover energy from the Big Bang called the cosmic microwave background. The trouble is, these two methods give different results.

Read more