Numbers appearing in parentheses at the end of sentences orparagraphs refer to the references provided in the Bibliography at the end of these notes.
The only direct way to determine the
mass of a star
is by studying its
with other objects.
Binary stars, two stars in orbit around a commoncentre of mass,
provide an ideal opportunity to do just that. At least half of all the ³stars´ in the sky are actually multiple star systems. Analysis of the orbital parametersof such systems provides vital information about a variety of stellar characteristics,including mass. (1)The methods used to analyse the orbital data depend on the geometry of the system, itsdistance from the observer and the relative masses and luminosities of eachcomponent. As a consequence,
binary star systems are classified according to themeans by which they are detected
There are six main types of binary systems: visual, spectroscopic, eclipsing, astrometric,spectrum and optical (1). The first four of these are required for study by the currentsyllabus. Let us now describe these four different types of binary star systems.
hen astronomers can actually see the two stars orbiting each other, thebinary is called a visual binary.
The brighter star in the pair is called the primary starand is denoted by the letter A after its name, while the other star is called the secondaryand is denoted by the letter B. For example, the alpha star in the constellation of theSouthern Cross is actually a visual binary consisting of Alpha Crucis A and Alpha CrucisB, both of which are easily discernable through a small telescope.Many years of careful observation are often necessary to ensure that the two stars areactually in orbit around each other. If the stars do form a binary system, each star willfollow an elliptical orbit around the centre of mass of the system. The star with thelarger mass will stay closer to the centre of mass of the system and will therefore havethe smaller orbit. This makes sense ± just think of two children on a seesaw. Tobalance, the child with the greater mass must sit closer to the fulcrum.
ome binary systems are detected due to a periodic shift in spectrallines. These are called spectroscopic binaries and are detected using theDoppler Effect.
If two stars in a binary system have some component of their orbitalmotion along the observer¶s line of sight, then as the stars move around their orbits,they periodically approach and recede from the observer. Thus, the spectral lines of thetwo stars are alternately blueshifted and then redshifted. (1 & 3)Through a telescope such a star system may appear to be one single star. However, anexamination of the spectra coming from ³the star´ will reveal two sets of spectral lines,one set from each star, each of which will display Doppler shifts. The two overlapping