Two stars, each with the same mass and in orbit around each other, are twins that one would expect to be identical. So astronomers were surprised when they discovered that twin stars in the Orion Nebula, a well-known stellar nursery 1,500 light years away, were not identical at all. In fact, these stars exhibited significant differences in brightness, surface temperature and possibly even size.
The study published in the June 19 Nature suggests that one of the stars formed significantly earlier than its twin. Because astrophysicists have assumed that binary stars form simultaneously, the discovery provides an important new challenge for today's star formation theories, forcing theorists to reexamine their models to see if the models can indeed produce binaries with stars that form at different times.