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Biggest Stellar Heartbeat Discovered!

Iota Orionis is the brightest star in the constellation Orion's sword. It is easily visible with the naked eye. Astronomers have discovered a queer phenomenon in this star that could lead to various further researches and help in gaining better understanding of massive stars.

The world's smallest astronomical space satellites, called nanosats, captured this phenomenon. Astronomers from the BRITE (BRight Target Explorer) Constellation project and Ritter Observatory discovered that the light from Iota Orionis shows a pattern that the astronomers had never seen before. The light is relatively stable 90% of the time but then dips rapidly followed by a large spike. The variations are rhythmic in nature similar to the sinus rhythms of the heart.

The cause of this unusual variation is the gravitational force between Iota Orionis and another star. The two stars interact in a highly elliptical 30-day orbit around each other. The two stars are far apart from each other in their orbits for the majority time. But once in every orbit completion they come nearly eight times closer. At that point, the gravitational pull is so strong that it deforms the shapes of the stars causing unusual changes in light.



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