University scientists uncover new way of determining whether planets can harbour life
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University scientists uncover new way of determining whether planets can harbour life

University scientists uncover new way of determining whether planets can harbour life

Researchers from the University of Vienna have discovered a new method for measuring the gravitational pull at the surface of a star, which could provide key information as to which planets could potentially harbour life.

The discovery, outlined in a study published in the journal Science Advances, allows scientists to measure surface gravity with an accuracy of approximately four percent, enabling them to examine stars too distant or too faint to apply to current techniques.

Due to the fact that surface gravity is dependent on both a star’s mass and its radius, this new and innovative method means scientists can more accurately determine the masses of distant stars.

The research was led by Thomas Kallinger of the University of Vienna, with cooperation from UBC’s Professor Jaymie Matthews, along with astronomers from France, Germany and Australia.

Deciphering a planet’s surface gravity is crucial to understanding how much a person would weigh in that environment. If each star had its own solid surface, a person’s weight would fluctuate depending which star they are on. Daily Galaxy notes that a person stood on the sun would weigh 20 times more than they would on Earth, but a giant red star has a much weaker pull, which would make you 50 times lighter.

“If you don’t know the star, you don’t know the planet,” said co-author, Jaymie Matthews. “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. Our technique can tell you how big and bright is the star, and if a planet around it is the right size and temperature to have water oceans, and maybe life.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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