The drifting star: Astronomers 'listen' to an exoplanet-host star and find its birthplace

April 15, 2008
The drifting star: Astronomers 'listen' to an exoplanet-host star and find its birthplace
Using HARPS on ESO's 3.6-m telescope at La Silla, astronomers were able to study in great detail the star Iota Horologii, known to harbour a giant planet, and make a very precise portrait of it: its temperature is 6150 K, its mass is 1.25 times that of the Sun, and its age is 625 million years. Moreover, the star is found to be more metal-rich than the Sun by about 50%. This means the star must have drifted from the Hyades cluster where it formed. Credit: Digital Sky Survey/VirGO.

By studying in great detail the 'ringing' of a planet-harbouring star, a team of astronomers using ESO's 3.6-m telescope have shown that it must have drifted away from the metal-rich Hyades cluster. This discovery has implications for theories of star and planet formation, and for the dynamics of our Milky Way.

The yellow-orange star Iota Horologii, located 56 light-years away towards the southern Horologium ("The Clock") constellation, belongs to the so-called "Hyades stream", a large number of stars that move in the same direction.

Previously, astronomers using an ESO telescope had shown that the star harbours a planet, more than 2 times as large as Jupiter and orbiting in 320 days.

But until now, all studies were unable to pinpoint the exact characteristics of the star, and hence to understand its origin. A team of astronomers, led by Sylvie Vauclair from the University of Toulouse, France, therefore decided to use the technique of 'asteroseismology' to unlock the star's secrets.

"In the same way as geologists monitor how seismic waves generated by earthquakes propagate through the Earth and learn about the inner structure of our planet, it is possible to study sound waves running through a star, which forms a sort of large, spherical bell," says Vauclair.

The 'ringing' from this giant musical instrument provides astronomers with plenty of information about the physical conditions in the star's interior.

And to 'listen to the music', the astronomers used one of the best instruments available. The observations were conducted in November 2006 during 8 consecutive nights with the state-of-the-art HARPS spectrograph mounted on the ESO 3.6-m telescope at La Silla.

Up to 25 'notes' could be identified in the unique dataset, most of them corresponding to waves having a period of about 6.5 minutes.

These observations allowed the astronomers to obtain a very precise portrait of Iota Horologii: its temperature is 6150 K, its mass is 1.25 times that of the Sun, and its age is 625 million years. Moreover, the star is found to be more metal-rich than the Sun by about 50%.

"These results show the power of asteroseismology when using a very precise instrument such as HARPS," says Vauclair. "It also shows that Iota Horologii has the same metal abundance and age as the Hyades cluster and this cannot be a coincidence."

The Hyades is an ensemble of stars that is seen with the unaided eye in the Northern constellation Taurus ("The Bull"). This open cluster, located 151 light-years away, contains stars that were formed together 625 million years ago.

The star Iota Horologii must have thus formed together with the stars of the Hyades cluster but must have slowly drifted away, being presently more than 130 light-years away from its original birthplace. This is an important result to understand how stars move on the galactic highways of the Milky Way.

This also means that the amount of metals present in the star is due to the original cloud from which it formed and not because it engulfed planetary material. "The chicken and egg question of whether the star got planets because it is metal-rich, or whether it is metal-rich because it made planets that were swallowed up is at least answered in one case," says Vauclair.

Source: ESO

Explore further: Distant planet's interior chemistry may differ from our own

Related Stories

Distant planet's interior chemistry may differ from our own

September 1, 2015

As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from that found on Earth. ...

Explainer: What is a neutron star?

September 1, 2015

Neutron stars are arguably the most exotic objects in the universe. Like one of those annoying friends who seemingly must overachieve in every aspect of life, neutron stars exceed in almost every category: surface gravity; ...

The dwarf planet Quaoar

August 28, 2015

The vast Kuiper Belt, which orbits at the outer edge of our solar system, has been the site of many exciting discoveries in the past decade or so. Otherwise known as the Trans-Neptunian region, small bodies have been discovered ...

Ice giants at opposition

August 28, 2015

It seems as if the planets are fleeing the evening sky, just as the Fall school star party season is getting underway. Venus and Mars have entered the morning sky, and Jupiter reaches solar conjunction this week. Even glorious ...

Discovering dust-obscured active galaxies as they grow

August 27, 2015

A group of researchers from Ehime University, Princeton University, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) among others has performed an extensive search for Dust Obscured Galaxies (DOGs) using data obtained ...

Recommended for you

At Saturn, one of these rings is not like the others

September 2, 2015

When the sun set on Saturn's rings in August 2009, scientists on NASA's Cassini mission were watching closely. It was the equinox—one of two times in the Saturnian year when the sun illuminates the planet's enormous ring ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.