Sun's Sibling Could Point to Extraterrestrial Life

Saturday, 10 May 2014 12:58 PM

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The sun has a solar sibling about 110 light years away that could provide clues about how life was formed billions of years ago — and point the way to extraterrestrial life, researchers at the University of Texas say.

According to a new study, a massive star has been identified that was "a star that was almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas and dust as our star."

The finding, to be published in June 1 edition of The Astrophysical Journal, says the star is in the constellation Hercules and is called HG 162826. The star is 15 percent more massive than the sun, and can even be seen by people on Earth using low-power binoculars, although it is not visible to the naked eye. It can be seen in the night sky near the bright star Vega.

"We want to know where we were born," said University of Texas at Austin astronomer Ivan Ramirez said in a news release from McDonald Observatory Friday. “If we can figure out in what part of the galaxy the sun formed, we can constrain conditions on the early solar system. That could help us understand why we are here.”

HD 162826 was identified as a sibling of the sun while Ramirez and his team followed up on 30 possible candidates submitted by groups that were looking for solar siblings.

Twenty-three of the stars were studied with the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald, and the other stars, visible only from the southern hemisphere, were studied using the Clay Magellan Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chili.

High-resolution spectroscopy was used to determine the chemical make-up of the stars, the report says, and Ramirez' team also studied the stars' orbits around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and after making the comparisons, the sibling study was narrowed down to just one star, HD 162826. Ironically, the star had been studied by the McDonald Observatory Planet Search team, which had been observing it for more than 15 years.

Ramirez said the study has a larger purpose, however, as it is creating a road map on how to identify such solar siblings.

"The idea is that the Sun was born in a cluster with a thousand or a hundred thousand stars," said Ramirez. "This cluster, which formed more than 4.5 billion years ago, has since broken up. A lot of things can happen in that amount of time.”

Other member stars have broken off into their own orbits, with many being much further away than HD 162826, said Ramirez.

And there is even a "small, but not zero,” chance that solar sibling stars can host life-harboring planets.

In their earliest days, collisions could have knocked chunks off of planets with the fragments traveling between solar systems, even bringing primitive life to Earth, said Ramirez, or taking life from Earth to other planets.

"So it could be argued that solar siblings are key candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life,” Ramirez said.

“Already, we’re getting a lot of data from a number of surveys,” Ramirez told FoxNews.com on Friday. “In five to 10 years from now, we’re going to be able to analyze 10,000 times more stars than what we’re able to do right now.”

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