Kepler space telescope listens to ‘music of the stars’

Sunday, February 20, 2011

LONDON - The Kepler space telescope is significantly better at measuring the sizes and ages of stars - when it ‘listens’ to the sounds they make.

Bill Chaplin of the University of Birmingham told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that Kepler was an exquisite tool for what is called astroseismology, reports the BBC.

The technique measures minuscule variations in a star’s brightness that occurs as sound waves bounce within it.

The Kepler team has now measured some 500 far-flung stars using this method.

Chaplin said that astroseismology was, in essence, listening to the ‘music of the stars’.

But it is not sound that Kepler measures. Its primary job is spotting exoplanets, by measuring the tiny dip in the amount of light that it sees whan a planet passes in front of a distant star.

Such precision light-level measurements also work for astroseismology, because as sound waves resonate within a star, they slightly change both the brightness and the colour of light that is emitted.

Researchers can deduce the acoustic oscillations that gave rise to the ripples on the light that Kepler sees.

Since stars fuse more and more hydrogen into helium, as they grow older, these amounts give astroseismologists a five-fold increase in the precision of their age estimates for stars.

“With conventional astronomy, when we look at stars we’re seeing the radiation emitted at their surfaces; we can’t actually see what’s happening inside.

“Using the resonances, we can literally build up a picture of what the inside of a star looks like - there’s no other way of doing that. It’s not easy to do, but we’re now getting there, thanks to Kepler,” said Chaplin. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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