A team of astronomers claimed to have developed a new tool to find habitable planets in other solar systems by measuring the surface gravity of the stars that are too distant to be studied with conventional methods.
Astronomers have already identified at least a dozen “Goldilocks” planets in other solar systems that are neither too hot nor too cold, but just right to support life. But a planet’s likelihood to support life depends on its star’s properties. Determining the star’s surface gravity can suggest the size and other details of the planets in its system.
Jaymie Matthews, a professor of astronomy at the University of British Columbia, said, “The size of an exoplanet is measured relative to the size of its parent star. If you find a planet around a star that you think is Sun-like but is actually a giant, you may have fooled yourself into thinking you’ve found a habitable Earth-sized world.”
Conventional methods can help scientists to measure surface gravity of bright stars that are comparatively close by, but that leaves out nearly one billion trillion stars and their planet systems.
Thus, Matthews and study co-author Thomas Kallinger determined that using the subtle variations in distant stars’ brightness caused by convection and surface turbulence to estimate surface gravity. The researchers liken their new technique to having a bathroom scale on a far-away star that is precise to within a few per cent.
The details of the newly developed autocorrelation time scale technique appeared in a recent edition of the journal Science Advances.