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The Backstory of Contact Binary Stars
Contact binary star systems have the remarkable property that they orbit so closely they share a common atmosphere. They are the most common type of eclipsing binary star system. Despite extensive observations over more than a century, answers to the most fundamental questions have eluded scientists until now: How do they form? How do they survive tranquilly in contact so long? What becomes of them in the end? An outburst in 2008 showed directly that contact binary stars end their long lives by merging in an explosive event known as a red nova. This presentation will reveal the recently uncovered backstory that answers these questions, and it will conclude by considering how these answers might help identify which contact binary will be the next to explode.
Professor Larry Molnar earned a B.S. in astronomy from the University of Michigan along with an MA and a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University. (Hence, he has the three-degree background appropriate for one studying the Universe) He was a postdoc at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and taught at the University of Iowa. He has been a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University since 1998.