Eclipse - Eclipsing Binaries

Eclipsing Binaries

A binary star system consists of two stars that orbit around their common center of mass. The movements of both stars lie on a common orbital plane in space. When this plane is very closely aligned with the location of an observer, the stars can be seen to pass in front of each other. The result is a type of extrinsic variable star system called an eclipsing binary.

The maximum luminosity of an eclipsing binary system is equal to the sum of the luminosity contributions from the individual stars. When one star passes in front of the other, the luminosity of the system is seen to decrease. The luminosity returns to normal once the two stars are no longer in alignment.

The first eclipsing binary star system to be discovered was Algol, a star system in the constellation Perseus. Normally this star system has a visual magnitude of 2.1. However, every 2.867 days the magnitude decreases to 3.4 for more than 9 hours. This is caused by the passage of the dimmer member of the pair in front of the brighter star. The concept that an eclipsing body caused these luminosity variations was introduced by John Goodricke in 1783.

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