The animations presented here are examples of gravitational interactions of
stars. The computer program used to generate these simulations is called
an N-body code (you can specify "N"umber of bodies). The computer is
one of the most important laboratories of an astronomer. Many processes
in astronomy are complex and take incredibly long timescales to unfold-
we are after all ephemeral creatures, shortlived.
Simulations like this can be used to probe the nature of the universe.
Astronomers need not visit the center of a star to understand the nuclear
fusion that takes place there; nor do they have to wait for billions of
years to watch how galaxies collide. Instead, modelling the universe
on the computer provides invaluable clues to the inner workings of the
These simulations are often shown in our Nightly Observing Program because they offer a perspective that illustrates the kinematics and dynamicism of the universe. This is an idea that is not easily conveyed by looking through the eyepiece of a telescope. The orbits of two stars would be the simplest case- however, this would be rather dull to watch since two orbiting bodies make elliptical and periodic paths about each other. With three stars, the interaction becomes much more complex. On the right an example of three orbiting stars is shown with the trace of their orbits (the paths they follow). The three stars in this example are of slightly different masses. Most people are surprised about how complex and non-repeating this interaction is.
The animation on the left shows the case of one hundred interacting stars. This might be typical of a tight cluster of stars. The stars shown here are of equal mass and hundreds of years pass by each second. Imagine what must be taking place in a globular cluster with one million stars!
Minimum credit line: Adam Block
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