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UNSW astronomers have shown that binary stars – two stars locked in orbit around each other – reflect light as well as radiating it, revealing new ways for their detection.
One of the first things we learn in astronomy is that some of the objects in the sky (the Sun and the stars) produce their own light, whereas others (the Moon and the planets) are only visible because they reflect light from the Sun.
Sun - Stars - Light
But do the Sun and the stars also reflect some of the light that falls on them?
This is a question that scientists from UNSW Sydney and Western Sydney University wanted to find out, which quite surprisingly, has been little studied by astronomers.
Paper - Nature - Astronomy - Researchers - Stars
In their paper published in Nature Astronomy, the researchers showed that stars do indeed reflect light, and that this reflected light could be a useful tool for astronomers.
Stellar reflection is most significant in a close binary system, where two stars are in orbit about each other. Such binary systems are believed common, with most of the stars in the universe thought to have binary companions.
Scientists - Star - Spica - Alpha - Virginis
The scientists studied the bright star Spica (Alpha Virginis), which is actually two hot stars orbiting each other with a period of only four days. They found that the light of the star is polarised in a way that varies as the stars move around in their orbits.
Professor Jeremy Bailey, from UNSW's School of Physics, said that normally, light from a star is unpolarised, meaning it vibrates in more than one plane. But when light from one star reflects that of another, it will become polarised, with the vibrations of light waves now traveling in a single plain.
Process - Way - Light - Water - Glass
He said it is a similar process to the way light is polarised when it reflects off a water or glass surface, allowing us to reduce...
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