September 17, 2014

16.03.10:Relativity Triumphant over Bizarre Binary.

The unique dance of DI Herculis. (Credit: Simon Albrect/MIT).

The unique dance of DI Herculis. (Credit: Simon Albrect/MIT).

 

   For years, a unique binary system has plagued Einsteinian physics. DI Herculis (DI Her) is a seemingly innocuous binary star about 2,000 light years distant. Type B stars each about five times the mass of our Sun, these stars are in a mutual orbital embrace about 0.2 A.U. apart. Visually, the system is at magnitude +8.5, and the orbit is inclined along our line of sight so that mutual eclipses occur every 10.55 days. First recorded in 1900, this feature allows the systems’ mass, luminosity and orbital characteristics to be known to a high degree of precession. For the past several decades, however, astronomer Ed Guinan at Villanova University couldn’t shake an odd effect; namely, periastron of the two stars is advancing at a rate of only Ľ what’s predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Is an unseen companion lurking in the DI Her system, or is it Albert himself who was wrong? Prediction of such anomalies as the precession of the perihelion of Mercury is one of the great cornerstones of relativity.  In a massive system such as DI Her, this effect should be even more pronounced. Like the Pioneer anomaly, several would-be theorists have pointed to this discrepancy as a potential chink in the relativistic armor…

 Enter Simon Albrecht of MIT. Using a 1.93-meter telescope to obtain a high-resolution spectrograph of the two suns, a bizarre fact has become apparent; both stars are tipped on their rotational axes, giving them an orbital “kick” at their closest approach. This configuration adequately accounts for the relativistic anomaly. Apparently, DI Her underwent a close passage of another star or massive object sometime in its history. Guinan is relieved, but will no doubt continue to receive a flood of email from alternate-gravity theorists!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] binaries are known, V994 Her is one of only six quadruple eclipsing binary stars discovered. An eclipsing binary star is a system where the two stars pass one in front of the other from our line of sight. Although [...]

  2. [...] binaries are known, V994 Her is one of only six quadruple eclipsing binary stars discovered. An eclipsing binary star is a system where the two stars pass one in front of the other from our line of sight. Although [...]

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