Is Star Trek: Picard’s Hypothesized ‘Octuple Star System’ Really Possible?
“What does this mean for Aia, the Grief World that serves as a warning to future civilizations? It means it’s most likely that the octuple star system is the naturally occurring entity that they found and chose as prime real estate for this beacon, and then they moved a single planet, rather than a series of stars, to this one quasi-stable location.
By equipping the planet with a series of thrusters, just as we equip the spacecraft we put at the Sun-facing (L1) and Sun-opposed (L2) Lagrange points with thrusters, it could maintain its position relative to the other stars over time, even over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s easily possible to have 8, 9, or even greater numbers of stars all bound together in the same system for millions or even billions of years.
But if you want a planet located at the center-of-mass of all of them? That cannot occur naturally. If someone were interested in minimizing the energy required to construct such a system, however, they’d spend their energy moving and refining a single planet, rather than manipulating eight different objects of much greater mass that were as hard-to-handle as stars are. Star Trek: Picard may have gotten the sci-fi aspect of this system right, but those ancient builders of the Aia system made an incredibly wasteful decision if chose to move multiple stars around, rather than a single low-mass planet.”
In Star Trek: Picard, they just raised the possibility that a never-before-seen octuple star system was found, a clear indicator of artificial creation, with one planet in the system serving as a beacon to the galaxy, warning them against creating synthetic life. But is this necessary? Would the Universe just naturally, spontaneously create these octuple systems on its own, without the need for any intelligent intervention?
One of the great challenges for astronomy is to determine, in gory detail, how stars are formed from a mere cloud of molecular gas and dust. Although the general picture is simple, where gravitational collapse leads to protostars that ignite nuclear fusion in their cores, the actual environments where these stars are born have many competing factors at play. Gravitational collapse is only one of them, joined by thermal heating and radiative cooling, magnetic fields and hydrodynamics, as well as stellar winds, ultraviolet radiation, and feedback from a variety of sources.
Here to help us disentangle what’s important, where, and when is Ph.D. candidate Mike Chen, an astrophysicist specialized in the formation of stars at the University of Victoria. If you’ve ever wondered how we actually form stars in our Universe, this edition of the Starts With A Bang podcast is for you!
Ask Ethan: How Many Generations Of Stars Formed Before Our Sun?
“[My professor] and I were discussing the status of our Sun. I was leaning towards the Sun being a third generation star and she was thinking the Sun was second. […] Any thoughts? And how might this be resolved with [future] technology?”
How many generations of stars formed before our Sun did? Surprisingly, this is not a questions astronomers know the answer to, nor is it one that we can envision coming up with a definitive answer for. In the modern Universe, we don’t have access to history or pre-history of the Solar System; all we can see is what remains today. The rest of it is up to us, the scientific community, to reconstruct.
But we’re pretty incredible at what we can say based on what we do know. The Sun cannot be a first-generation, pristine star, since none of those have ever been even discovered. It couldn’t be a second-generation star, because those are ubiquitous and have very different properties than our own Sun. But where are we then? And what do we know, and what remains mysterious?
Launched 20th August 1977 16 days before its twin problem Voyager 1, Voyager 2 only had a projected lifespan of 5 years. Now, after more than 41 years of traveling the solar system visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune it has become only the second man made object to exit our stars protective bubble known as the heliosphere (the first was voyager 1 back in 2012.) While Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space, I’ve been very careful not to say it’s exited the solar system because a gigantic ring containing billions of comets we call the Oort Cloud encircles the entire star system. While only held in place very loosely by our suns gravity, it is predicted to be from 0.03-3.2 light years across and will still take about another 300 years to reach.
See The Universe Through The Eyes Of ALMA, The World’s Most Complex Telescope
“Instead of the number of wavelengths fitting across a single dish, your resolution is determined by the distance between dishes.
ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, consists of 66 large radio telescopes networked together.
Combined, they measure this long-wavelength light to reveal astronomical details as never before.”
You can do so much more, in terms of resolution, with an array of telescopes than you could ever hope to do with a single dish. ALMA is presently the world’s most advanced array of infrared/radio telescopes, and by viewing individual objects with every one of their 66 dishes simultaneously, it can reveal details we’d never see otherwise. From individual galaxies, rotating or forming stars, to the signatures given off from newborn or dying stars, these images (and many more) reveal details about the Universe we’ve never known before. Most breathtaking of all, ALMA can reveal the details of a newly-formed solar system’s protoplanetary disk, including the gaps where new planets are actively forming.
What Was It Like When The Universe Made Its Second Generation Of Stars?
“The very first stars live only an extremely short time, owing to their high masses and large luminosities and rates-of-fusion. When they die, the space around them becomes polluted with the fruits of their lives: heavy elements. These heavy elements enable the second generation of stars to form, but they now form differently. The heavy elements radiate heat away, giving rise to a less massive, more diverse generation of stars, some of which survive even to the present day.
When the James Webb Space Telescope begins operations, it may yet reveal a population of these first stars, likely to be found alongside polluted, second-generation stars. But once these second-generation stars begin to form, they make something else possible: the first galaxies. And that, in just a few years, is likely where the James Webb Space Telescope will truly shine.”
The first stars in the Universe, as astronomers define them, are stars made out of pristine materials left over from the Big Bang: almost exclusively hydrogen and helium. Because of this, their options are limited. They’re all very massive, they have no rocky planets around them, they live a short time, and they almost all die in a supernova. That’s not a life-friendly environment! But all of that changes with the second generation of stars, which forms just a few million years after the first. Some of these may even survive in the Milky Way to the present day… and we might have even found them already.
What Happens When Planets, Stars, And Black Holes Collide?
“Brown dwarf collisions. Want to make a star, but you didn’t accumulate enough mass to get there when the gas cloud that created you first collapsed? There’s a second chance available to you! Brown dwarfs are like very massive gas giants, more than a dozen times as massive as Jupiter, that experience strong enough temperatures (about 1,000,000 K) and pressures at their centers to ignite deuterium fusion, but not hydrogen fusion. They produce their own light, they remain relatively cool, and they aren’t quite true stars. Ranging in mass from about 1% to 7.5% of the Sun’s mass, they are the failed stars of the Universe.
But if you have two in a binary system, or two in disparate systems that collide by chance, all of that can change in a flash.”
Nothing in the Universe exists in total isolation. Planets and stars all have a common origin inside of star clusters; galaxies clump and cluster together and are the homes for the smaller masses in the Universe. In an environment such as this, collisions between objects are all but inevitable. We think of space as being extremely sparse, but gravity is always attractive and the Universe sticks around for a long time. Eventually, collisions will occur between planets, stars, stellar remnants, and black holes.