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HubbleSite Strobe-like Flashes Discovered in a Suspected Binary Protostar


Space Telescope Science

A mysterious infant star, swaddled inside a dusty blanket, behaves like a police strobe light. The newly discovered object offers clues into the early stages of star formation, when a lot of gas and dust is being rapidly sucked into a newly forming binary star. Every 25.34 days, the object, designated LRLL 54361, unleashes a burst of light. The flashes may be due to material suddenly being dumped onto the growing protostars, unleashing a blast of radiation each time the stars get close to each other in their orbits. The phenomenon has been seen in later stages of star birth, but never in such a young system, nor with such intensity and regularity.

LRLL 54361 was discovered by the Spitzer Space Telescope as a variable object inside the star-forming region IC 348, located 950 light-years away. The Hubble Space Telescope was used to confirm the Spitzer observations and revealed the detailed structure around the protostar. Hubble resolved two cavities that are traced by light scattered off their edges above and below a dusty disk. Astronomers will continue monitoring LRLL 54361 using other telescopes, including the Herschel Space Telescope, and hope to eventually obtain more direct measurements of the binary star and its orbit.

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