NASA space telescope spots "starquakes"

NASA’s Keplar space telescope measure pulses of light from stars

keplers target are of space
Scientists today said they have detected and measured what they called starquakes, or pulses of light that will help them better understand the size, age and evolution of stars.

Using data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, scientists can measure the natural pulse of light waves to provide new insights into the structure and evolution of stars.

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"These variations in brightness can be interpreted as vibrations, or oscillations within the stars, using a technique called asteroseismology. The oscillations reveal information about the internal structure of the stars, in much the same way that seismologists use earthquakes to probe the Earth's interior, "according to scientists from the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC).

The Kepler data has been used to investigate the details of stellar evolution for a bright star, known as KIC 11026764,   in the area of space being examined by the space telescope and more than thousand so-called red giant stars.

KIC 11026764 has the most accurately known properties of any star viewed by Kepler. At an age of 5.94 billion years, it has grown to a little over twice the diameter of the sun and will continue to do so as it transforms into a red giant. The oscillations reveal that this star is powered by hydrogen fusion in a thin shell around a helium-rich core, the scientists stated.

The scientists said the measurement of KIC 11026764 is of crucial importance for Kepler's capability to characterize the planets in orbit around stars other than our Sun. "We can only determine accurate characteristics for planets if we can determine accurate properties of their host stars, such as is demonstrated for KIC 11026764.  Asteroseismology is the only way to determine such accurate stellar ages and properties in general. KIC 11026764 represents a beautiful example of a star which in its evolution is between the Sun and the red giant stars also observed by Kepler," they stated.

"Based on the detection of 29 different oscillations and measurement of their periods we have determined ....that this star is not any longer producing energy in the core by hydrogen fusion: the core - which is almost pure helium - is slowly contracting while the star is in a phase of evolution which over several hundred million years will transform it to a giant star. Energy is produced in a thin region surrounding the helium core. The data provide detailed information about the internal structure of the star in this crucial phase of evolution and hence will greatly help our understanding of stellar evolution," the scientists stated.

Using the Kepler telescope we have detected oscillations in more than 1000 giant stars at a precision never obtained before for such a large set of data. The periods of those oscillations are used to study the interiors of these giant stars, which represent the future life of our Sun, and allow us to clearly detect the signature of stellar evolution in a wider range of stars than ever before, the scientists stated.

NASA's star gazing Kepler recently discovered two Saturn-sized exoplanets that are crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star. NASA said in addition to the two confirmed giant planets, Kepler spotted what appears to be a third, much smaller transit signature in the observations of the sun-like star designated Kepler-9, which is 2,000 light years away from Earth. The planets were named Kepler-9b and 9c.

The signature is consistent with the transits of a super-Earth-sized planet about 1.5 times the radius of Earth in a scorching, near-sun 1.6 day-orbit. Additional observations are required to determine whether this signal is indeed a planet or an astronomical phenomenon that mimics the appearance of a transit, NASA stated. 

The observations show Kepler-9b is the bigger of the two planets which have masses similar to but less than Saturn, NASA stated.  Kepler-9b lies closest to the star with an orbit of about 19.2 days, while Kepler-9c has an orbit of about 38 days. By observing several transits by each planet over the seven months of data, the time between successive transits could be analyzed.

The discovery comes from seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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