Feeds

Boffins find new way to spot stars which have planets

Lithium trick ideal for hunting alien civilisations

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Astro boffins have developed a simple method for telling which stars have planets and which don't, potentially a great help in hunting for alien civilisations or uninhabited Earthlike worlds ripe for colonisation by humanity*.

Artist's conception of a planet orbiting a far-off sun. Credit: ESO

Pah - another useless gas giant. Re-engage the hyperdrive, Number One

It seems that - for some reason not as yet understood - stars which have planets have much less lithium in them than those without planetary systems. Determining how much lithium a star has is easy and simple for astronomers, much less trouble than trying to spot planets across the enormity of interstellar space.

“For almost 10 years we have tried to find out what distinguishes stars with planetary systems from their barren cousins,” says Garik Israelian, lead boffin on a recent lithium-level star survey. “We have now found that the amount of lithium in Sun-like stars depends on whether or not they have planets.”

Israelian and his fellow scientists have established this by doing a census of 500 stars, 70 of which are known to have planets, using the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (aka HARPS) attached to the European Southern Observatory's 3.6 metre mountaintop telescope in Chile. It appears that stars which are the suns of their own solar system generally have as little as one per cent of the lithium found in planetless ones.

According to the boffins, lithium - one of the lightest elements, with a nucleus composed of only three protons and four neutrons - was mostly formed during the period shortly after the big bang when the universe was just beginning to expand into its present form.

Stars would normally, therefore, be expected to have similar amounts of lithium. Thus Israelian and his colleagues believe that some process involving planets' effects on their parent stars must cause lithium to be destroyed much more quickly. Various kinds of fusion reaction involving lithium can take place in a star's interior.

“There are several ways in which a planet can disturb the internal motions of matter in its host star, [and] thereby rearrange the distribution of the various chemical elements and possibly cause the destruction of lithium. It is now up to the theoreticians to figure out which one is the most likely to happen,” says Michel Mayor, another boffin involved in the study.

The scientists' paper is published in Nature magazine (for paying subscribers) this week, but you can read it for free online in pdf format here, courtesy of the ESO. ®

*Once we iron out a few trifling issues like inventing faster-than-light travel, of course. And some kind of more practical means of getting into space at all, come to that. The current exploding smoke-poles will never do in the long run.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?