Academic journal article Science Scope

Stars' Spins Reveal Their Ages

Academic journal article Science Scope

Stars' Spins Reveal Their Ages

Article excerpt

If you notice yourself slowing down as you age, you're not alone--the same is true of stars. Scientists are now using that fact to tease out stellar ages, which are often difficult to determine.

"Our goal is to construct a clock that can measure accurate and precise ages of stars from their spins. We've taken another significant step forward in building that clock," says Soren Meibom, describing the work of his research team.

Being able to tell the ages of stars is the basis for understanding how astronomical phenomena involving stars and their companions unfold over time. Knowing a star's age is particularly relevant to the search for signs of alien life outside our solar system. It has taken a long time for life on Earth to attain the complexity we find today. With an accurate stellar clock, astronomers can identify stars with planets that are as old as our Sun or older.

A star's spin rate depends on its age because it slows down steadily with time, like a top spinning on a table. A star's spin also depends on its mass; astronomers have found that larger, heavier stars tend to spin faster than smaller, lighter ones. This new work shows that there is a close mathematical relationship between mass, spin, and age so that by measuring the first two, scientists can calculate the third. Coauthor Sydney Barnes first proposed this method in 2003, building on prior work, and called it gyrochronology, from the Greek words gyros (rotation), chronos (time/age), and logos (study). …

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