Now you can listen to 13 billion year-old stars

Shot of the M4 globular cluster captured  in May 2000(Credit: T2KA, KPNO 0.9-m Telescope, NOAO, AURA, NSF)

A team of astrophysicists from the University of Birmingham has successfully used Kepler data to capture the sounds emitted by ancient stars. The study focused on eight red giant stars, the smallest of which is many times the mass of our Sun, and almost three times its current age.

The study drew on Kepler observations of stars in the M5 globular cluster. Located roughly 7,200 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius, M5 is thought to be around 13 billion years old, making it one of the most ancient star clusters in the Milky Way.

The team from the University of Birmingham used a technique known as astroseismology to observe resonant oscillations in the stars that are thought to be responsible for brief pulses of brightness, created as sound trapped inside the star interacts with its interior. The astronomers were able to listen to the notes of a stellar chorus created by the oscillations, and estimate the age and mass of the sample stars.

"We were thrilled to be able to listen to some of the stellar relics of the early universe," states Dr Andrea Miglio of the University of Birmingham's School of Physics and Astronomy. "The stars we have studied really are living fossils from the time of the formation of our Galaxy, and we now hope be able to unlock the secrets of how spiral galaxies, like our own, formed and evolved."

The sounds created by the oscillations in the red giants can be listened to on the university website (see link below). The smallest of the stars, which would still dwarf our own Sun, emits a relatively high note, while the most massive of the eight sample stars lets off a much deeper pitch.

A paper on the research has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Astrophysical Journal.

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