(Submitted March 30, 1998)
How can binary stars be detected even when a telescope like HST can't
even see them together?
There are stars called spectroscopic binaries that are detected when a
spectrum is seen to contain two sets of lines which move slightly relative
to each other, in step with the two stars movement about their common center
of gravity. If we are roughly in the plane of the binary orbit, we will see
first one set of lines slightly blue shifted and the other slightly red shifted
(as one star moves towards us and the other away) and then the opposite effect
(after another 180 degrees of mutual revolution). If the two stars are similar
the two sets of lines will be similar, but if the stars are quite different the
lines will be too.
for the Ask an Astrophysicist team