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Decoding the Music of the Spheres

The principal contributions to astronomy that I have been able to make in the past 50 years of my professional life involve the study of binary stars—in particular, pairs of stars that are so close as to mutually eclipse each other in the course of each revolution and that, in so doing, exhibit characteristic telltale changes of light. The importance of such systems is that they offer us the only possible means to determine the masses and absolute dimensions of stars other than our Sun.

Zdenek Kopal

The principal contributions to astronomy that I have been able to make in the past 50 years of my professional life involve the study of binary stars—in particular, pairs of stars that are so close as to mutually eclipse each other in the course of each revolution and that, in so doing, exhibit characteristic telltale changes of light. The importance of such systems is that they offer us the only possible means to determine the masses and absolute dimensions of stars other than our Sun. Fortunately, there are millions of such “eclipsing variables” in the sky, and light changes (established photoelectrically) are on record for several thousand of them—but how are we to decipher these to obtain the results we want?

Since such objects were first identified in the sky more than 200 years ago, most methods have aimed at an interpretation of the light changes plotted as a function...

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