The Breakup of a Stellar System
This three-frame illustration shows how a grouping of stars can break apart, flinging the members into space.
The first panel shows four members of a multiple-star system orbiting each other. In the second panel, two of the stars move closer together in their orbits. In the third panel, the closely orbiting stars eventually either merge or form a tight binary. This event releases enough gravitational energy to propel all of the stars in the system outward, as shown in the third panel.