New Kepler results!

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Scientists released additional Kepler results [pdf] today, this time describing what they are learning about the stars being observed rather than any planets that might be orbiting them. In studying each star’s minute variations of light, the astronomers can track how the star itself is oscillating like a bell ringing. From this they can do a kind of stellar seismology, finding out a great deal about what is going on inside the star. The data has thus:

  • produced the most precise measurements of the size and age of another star beside the Sun. KIC 11026764 has a radius 2.05 times the size of the Sun, and is now believed to be 5.94 billion years old, slightly older than the Sun’s 4.57 billion years. Though larger than the Sun, this star is a G-type star like the Sun. So far, Kepler has observed about 1500 solar-type stars. The astronomers are still analyzing this data, with results to follow.
  • measured the oscillations of a thousand red giant stars, ranging from slightly larger to dozens of times larger than the Sun. The larger the star, the faster the oscillation and the larger the amplitude, which in turn has confirmed the theories about how the nuclear processes in the core of stars evolve over time, shifting from burning hydrogen to helium. Since these red giants are what our Sun will be like when it reaches old age, we are thus learning something about the Sun’s future.
  • and provided the most precise measurements ever of RR Lyrae stars, a class of unusual variable stars that have puzzled astronomers for more than a century. From this data the astronomers hope to find out exactly why these stars fluctuate as they do.

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