The above light curve, with its periodic increase and decrease in brightness, has the clear signature of an RR Lyrae stars. The pulsations, caused by increases and decreases in the radii and temperatures of these types of stars, typically vary on times-scales ranging from a few hours to and a couple of days. These stars are also evolved stars, meaning that they tend to be older than the Sun with typical ages of around 10 billion years.
RR Lyraes are not only nice to look at, they are also very important for the field of astronomy, as they allow us calibrate the ‘distance ladder’ and thus help us determine the distance to far away objects. They can do that because the time between the pulsations depends on the mass, temperature and intrinsic brightness (the brightness if you were right next to the star) of the star. When we compare the intrinsic brightness to the brightness that we see from Earth, we can calculate how far away the RR Lyrae star is using the inverse-square law.
This target was discussed on the PHT discussion forums at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/nora-dot-eisner/planet-hunters-tess/talk/2107/1550146
This week we have an exotic EB, explained to us by Dr. Cole Johnston, where the primary star is a subdwarf which is the stripped helium-burning core of a star. The temperature of this star is so high that it illuminates the much cooler secondary star, causing the surface of the secondary star that is facing the primary to heat up and appear much brighter than the side that is facing away. This causes a dramatic increase in brightness approaching and receding from the secondary eclipse (the small dip at the top of the ‘wave’ in the above lightcurve). The two stars are so close together that they complete one orbit in just a few hours! The above light curve is phase folded to emphasise the brightening which is known as the ‘reflection effect’.
Studying these systems is important because these primary stars are thought to be the tracers of a very strange evolutionary path, whereby the entire hydrogen envelope of an evolving star is stripped away by some mechanism (probably by a binary or high mass planetary companion), just at the point were helium burning starts in the core of the star.
Planet Hunters TESS users have identified two very interesting lightcurves of M-dwarf stars that show repeating patterns that are difficult to explain with well-known astrophysical phenomena such as star spots, eclipsing binaries or stellar pulsations.
Both of these lightcurves exhibit two dips, a shallow one and a deeper one, which could be explained as the primary and secondary eclipses of an eclipsing binary. However, in addition to these ‘eclipses’, we can also see a w-shaped dip after or after the deeper eclipse. Both lightcurves repeat with a period of less than 1 day and the patterns remain stable over the course of the available TESS observations, as shown in the phase folded figure below. The target stars are both M-dwarfs, with temperatures of around 3000 K and radii of around 0.3 Solar radii.
Similar lightcurves had previously been seen in the Kepler data, see Stauffer et al. 2017 (https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-3881/aa5eb9/pdf) for more detail. This paper suggests that the pattern could be caused by clouds of dust orbiting around one of the stars. Could that also explain the w-shaped dips in the TESS data, or are we seeing an entirely different phenomenon here?
In order to study these systems in more detail we want to see if we can identify more of them in the TESS data.
If you see any of these please tag a member of the researcher team or use the hashtag #wstars to help us find and study these elusive systems.
A new paper released this week and accepted by the Astronomical Journal (https://arxiv.org/abs/2004.07783) announced the discovery of TOI-1338, a planet in an eclipsing binary system. An eclipsing binary consists of two stars in orbit around each other, and this new planet orbits both stars. The paper was led by Veselin Kostov and his team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and elsewhere, but they were first tipped off to the presence of this interesting system by reading comments on Planet Hunters Talk. Several citizen scientists appear as authors on the paper – congratulations to everyone involved!
This isn’t the first time Planet Hunters have found a circumbinary system – PH1b, discovered way back in 2014, was found in Kepler data by volunteers, and is still the only planet known in a four-star system.
Many stars are not alone, but instead form part of a multi-stellar system of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound together. Even though the prime science goal of TESS is to find exoplanets, it also observes a plethora of eclipsing binaries that allow us to study these systems in more detail.
The light curve of TIC 8153514, observed in Sector 21, shows a sharp eclipse superimposed on top of the signal of a variable star.
If you see eclipsing binaries on PHT you can tag it with #EB or #eclipsingbinary to let others known what you have found!
Asteroids are small rocky bodies that are left over from the time of the formation of the Solar System. They range in sizes from small rocks that you could see on the side of a lake to hundreds of kilometers across. There are as many as hundreds of millions of these within our own Solar System, so it comes as no surprise that we often see them in the TESS light curves, manifesting themselves as spikes or dips or anything in between.
The above figure shows the light curves of six bright stars observed by TESS, sorted by their distance with reference to the top object (the red light curve). As you can see, almost all of them show a ‘strange’ signal, which is very likely caused by an object such as an asteroid passing through the field of view.
This next figure shows an approximation of a possible path of the asteroid, which was determined by matching the times of the events with the locations of the target stars. The target stars are highlighted with circles of the same colours as the light curves in the first image, and the times are the times in hours since the first event (in the orange light curve). Based on a very simple estimations of the times and projected distances, we can approximate the projected speed of the asteroid to be around 0.6 arcseconds per hour.
Asteroids are fascinating objects that allow us to probe the conditions of the Solar System during the time of its formation (4.5 billion years ago!). If you’re interested in making your own light curves, such as those in the top figure, you can download a program called LATTE to have a go.
The pattern seen in this light curve could be due to the variability of a young stellar object (YSO), which is often related to a disc obscuring some of the stars light and/or material accreting onto the star. Studies of the symmetries in the LCs of YSOs can help us understand the environment around the star.
Some stars are quiet,
Some stars pulsate,
Some stars are single,
Some have a mate.
This is a pulsating star in a binary system. Thank you to the citizen scientists who brought this fun system to our attention and suggested it as a lightcurve of the week. https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/nora-dot-eisner/planet-hunters-tess/talk/2112/1030293?comment=2048847&page=1
This week we have an EB where the two stars get so close to one another that their gravitational pull distorts their shapes, changing it from a sphere to a rugby-ball type shape. The increase in surface area from this results in an increase in observed flux after the primary eclipse. If you look carefully you can also see a small secondary eclipse!
The light curve of TIC 394177355 was already flagged by the Kepler team (KOI-3156) when it was observed back in 2015. It shows a multi-eclipsing quintuple system of pulsating stars with orbital periods of 94.2, 8.65, 1.52 and 1.43 days. TESS saw this target 5 years later in Sector 15, and observed it during a triple eclipse. Check out the paper by Hełminiak et al. (2017) to find out more about this very interesting and rare system.