Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

XMM-Newton detects X-ray ’solar cycle’ in distant star

11.05.2004


For years, astronomers have wondered whether stars similar to the Sun go through periodic cycles of enhanced X-ray activity, like those often causing troubles to telephone and power lines here on Earth.


The Sun as observed by the ESA/NASA SOHO observatory near the minimum of the solar cycle (above) and near its maximum (below). The signs of solar activity near the maximum are clearly seen. New XMM-Newton observations suggest that this behaviour may be typical of stars like the Sun, such as HD 81809 in the constellation Hydra.



ESA’s X-ray observatory XMM-Newton has now revealed for the first time a cyclic behaviour in the X-ray radiation emitted by a star similar to the Sun. This discovery may help scientists to understand how stars affect the development of life on their planets.

Since the time Galileo discovered sunspots, in 1610, astronomers have measured their number, size and location on the disc of the Sun. Sunspots are relatively cooler areas on the Sun that are observed as dark patches. Their number rises and falls with the level of activity of the Sun in a cycle of about 11 years.


When the Sun is very active, large-scale phenomena take place, such as the flares and coronal mass ejections observed by the ESA/NASA solar observatory SOHO. These events release a large amount of energy and charged particles that hit the Earth and can cause powerful magnetic storms, affecting radio communications, power distribution lines and even our weather and climate.

During the solar cycle, the X-ray emission from the Sun varies by a large amount (about a factor of 100) and is strongest when the cycle is at its peak and the surface of the Sun is covered by the largest number of spots.

ESA’s X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, has now shown for the first time that this cyclic X-ray behaviour is common to other stars as well. A team of astronomers, led by Fabio Favata, from ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre, The Netherlands, has monitored a small number of solar-type stars since the beginning of the XMM-Newton mission in 2000. The X-ray brightness of HD 81809, a star located 90 light years away in the constellation Hydra (the water snake), has varied by more than 10 times over the past two and a half years, reaching a well defined peak in mid 2002.

The star has shown the characteristic X-ray modulation (brightening and dimming) typical of the solar cycle. "This is the first clear sign of a cyclic pattern in the X-ray emission of stars other than the Sun," said Favata. Furthermore, the data show that these variations are synchronised with the starspot cycle. If HD 81809 behaves like the Sun, its X-ray brightness can vary by a factor of one hundred over a few years. "We might well have caught HD 81809 at the beginning of an X-ray activity cycle," added Favata.

The existence of starspot cycles on other stars had already been established long ago, thanks to observations that began in the 1950s. However, scientists did not know whether the X-ray radiation would also vary with the number of starspots. ESA’s XMM-Newton has now shown that this is indeed the case and that this cyclic X-ray pattern is not typical of the Sun alone. "This suggests that our Sun’s behaviour is probably nothing exceptional," said Favata.

Besides its interest for scientists, the Sun’s cyclical behaviour can have an influence on everyone on Earth. Our climate is known to be significantly affected by the high-energy radiation emitted by the Sun. For instance, a temporary disappearance of the solar cycle in the 18th century corresponded with an exceptionally cold period on Earth. Similarly, in the early phases of the lifetime of a planet, this high-energy radiation has a strong influence on the conditions of the atmosphere, and thus potentially on the development of life.

Finding out whether the Sun’s X-ray cycle is common among other solar-type stars, and in particular among those hosting potential rocky planets, can give scientists much needed clues on whether and where other forms of life might exist outside the Solar System. At the same time, understanding how typical and long-lasting is the solar behaviour will tell us more about the evolution of the climate on Earth.

Further observations of HD 81809 and other similar stars are already planned with XMM-Newton. They will allow astronomers to study whether the large modulations in X-ray brightness observed in the Sun are indeed the norm for stars of its type. Understanding how other solar-like stars behave in general will give scientists better insight into the past and future of our own Sun.

Fabio Favata | ESA
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMFALGHZTD_index_1.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers
24.01.2017 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS

nachricht European XFEL prepares for user operation: Researchers can hand in first proposals for experiments
24.01.2017 | European XFEL GmbH

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>