Feeds

Boffins find new way to spot stars which have planets

Lithium trick ideal for hunting alien civilisations

New hybrid storage solutions

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.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Boffins: Behold the SILICON CHEAPNESS of our tiny, radio-signal-munching IoT sensor
Single ant-sized Stanford chip combines radio, 'puter, antenna
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
TROUT and EELS in SINISTER PACT to RULE the oceans
Slimy chums form deadly alliance to sweep seas
Drones swarm over bearded Brit billionaire's island getaway
Just to take lovely pictures though, after Richard Branson invests in 3D Robotics
Chelyabinsk-sized SURPRISE asteroid to skim Earth, satnav birds
Space rock appears out of nowhere, buzzes planet on Sunday
California blue whale numbers soar to historical levels, say boffins
Still far too many of them being struck by US ships, mind
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.