Nearly half of all stars in the Milky Way Galaxy are in binary or higher order multiple star systems (i.e., two or more stars that are gravitationally-bound to one another). With a variety of telescopes, we have observed the earliest stages of star formation, which reveal the presence of disks of gas and dust surrounding the young stars. Such disks are present in all systems despite the multiplicity. However, it can get quite complicated. For instance, in a binary star system, there may be three disks. One rotating about each of the young stars and a third, larger disk orbiting both stars. As one can imagine, the gravitational interactions can be quite complicated, but direct observations can help us disentangle how these disks may evolve into a diversity of planetary systems. Yes, these disks are the reservoirs of material that find their way into planets. The three disks described above indicate that planets may form around each of the stars as well as around both stars. In fact, the planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has discovered planets in binary systems orbiting the individual stars as well as those on larger orbits encircling both stars.
Our project seeks to better understand the interaction of two stars in a binary system with a "circumbinary" disk. Using multiple epochs of high-resolution spectroscopic observations, we will probe the accretion activity in this system, characterizing it in relation to orbital dynamics of the systems and the generation of typical outflow associated with most young Sun-like stars. In addition, the presence of TiO absorption bands produced in the photospheres of these stars should provide us some insight into the presence of extremely large, cool starspots that if not fully characterized may affect our fundamental understanding of the ages and evolution young stars.
The data has been collected on the 3.5-meter Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico using a cross-dispersed echelle spectrograph. The student researcher will get to be quite familiar with this instrument and the nature of the data it collects. IRAF, an astronomy specific software package will be employed to reduce the data. Any experience with basic computer programming languages and packages like Matlab will be useful.