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Fission Hypothesis of Binary Star Formation

"This paper is concerned with one of the oldest hypotheses in stellar-evolution theory, namely, that a binary system originates from the splitting of a single star into two components due to rotational instability during contraction of the star. In spite of many attempts, no satisfactory theory of this process has been developed …"

— Drawn from §I of Ian W. Roxburgh (1966)

Whitworth's (1981) Isothermal Free-Energy Surface
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Potentially Useful References


The ancient problem of whether a rotating, contracting star will, if it has sufficient angular momentum, subdivide and become a binary system must now be reexamined. The existence of generalized zero-viscosity polytropic sequences which do not terminate and which do reach the points of dynamical over stability … answers several of the objections that have been raised against the fission hypothesis. The new situation was reviewed by J. P. Ostriker (1970) in a discussion which anticipates the results presented in this paper. A point of view is presented by N. R. Lebovitz (1972) which envisions a different evolution but predicts fission at the same critical value of ~T/|W|.

  • I. A. Bonnell (2001), Proceedings of IAU Symposium 200, held 10 - 15 April, 2000 in Potsdam, Germany, edited by Hans Zinnecker and Robert D. Mathieu, p. 23: The Formation of Close Binary Stars
  • J. T. Tohline (2002), ARAA, 40, 349: The Origin of Binary Stars


Figure 1
Droplet Fission

YouTube video:
Skylab Drop Dynamics Experiment (1975)

Figure 2
Theoretical Model
Brown & Scriven (1980)
(Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 276, 389)

Figure 4
USML-1 Experiment
Wang, Anilkumar, Lee & Lin (1994)
(Proc. Roy. Soc. London, 371, 331)

Figure 3
Hachisu & Eriguchi scenario
Hachisu & Eriguchi (1984)
(Astrophysics and Space Science, 99, 71)

Figure 5
Kimberly New simulation
Figure 10 from New & Tohline (1997)
(The Astrophysical Journal, 490, 311)

Related Discussions

Fission in Nuclear Physics

The nuclear physics community also draws an analogy between the fission of a rotating fluid drop and the spontaneous fission of atomic nuclei; see, for example, the figure associated with the Wikipedia discussion of the energetics of nuclear fission.

Drop Dynamics Experiments

[On 1 January 2014, J. E. Tohline wrote ...] As I was putting this chapter together, I had difficulty documenting the various drop dynamics experiments that have been conducted by astronauts in various Earth-orbiting (zero g) environments. Here is the relevant information that I have found, to date.


Experiments showing the fission of liquid drops were evidently conducted during the Skylab 2, Skylab 3, and Skylab 4 missions (circa 1973-1974).

According to the Teacher's Guide mentioned above, the activities shown in the above-referenced films were carried out by three teams of Skylab Astronauts:

Skylab Astronauts

Kerwin blows water droplet from a straw

Skylab 2 (First Team)

Space Shuttle Flights

Experiments illustrating the dynamical behavior of liquid drops were conducted during several space shuttle missions. Some experiments were performed inside the European Space Agency's "spacelab module" and others were performed with the aid of a "Drop Physics Module (DPM)" inside the United States Microgravity Laboratory (USML), each being a "portable" laboratory that was housed in the shuttle's payload bay.

International Space Station

  • See the two "Gallery of Fluid Motions" mpg movies that accompany the preprint by Ueno et al. (2012).

Online References

Whitworth's (1981) Isothermal Free-Energy Surface

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