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Pair of stars in orbit around a common centre of gravity. Their relative sizes and brightnesses and the distance between them vary widely. Perhaps half of all stars in the Milky Way Galaxy are binaries or members of more complex multiple systems. Some binaries form a class of variable stars (seeeclipsing variable star). Stars can be identified as binaries in various waysvisually by telescope, through spectroscopic observation, by changes in apparent brightness (when the dimmer star eclipses its companion), or by changes in the proper motion of the visible member (owing to the gravitational pull of the invisible companion).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on binary star, visit Britannica.com.