Scientists Discover New Method to Measure the Age of the Milky Way

Monday, December 9, 2019 - 11:28

A team of 38 scientists led by researchers from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in Three Dimensions (ASTRO-3D) have discovered a new way to measure the age of the Milky Way.

According to the Universe Today report, the Milky Way Galaxy consists of two disk-like structures, the thin disk and the thick disk. The thick disk, which envelopes the thin disk, contains about 20% of the Milky Way’s stars and is thought to be the older of the pair based on the composition of its stars (which have greater metallicity) and its puffier nature.

Researchers used data from the now-retired Kepler mission to measure starquakes in the Milky Way’s disk. From this, they have revised the official estimates on the age of the Milky Way’s thick disk, which they conclude is around 10 billion years old.

The study which describes their findings – titled “The K2-HERMES Survey: age and metallicity of the thick disc” – recently appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

To determine the age of the thick disk, Dr. Sharma and his team employed a method known as asteroseismology. This consists of measuring a star’s oscillations caused by starquakes, where the crusts of stars undergo sudden shifts similar to Earthquakes. This process allows researchers to conduct “galactic-archaeology”, where they are able to look back in time to the formation of the Milky Way (over 13 billion years ago).

These findings show that even after two of its reaction wheels failed in 2013, Kepler was still able to conduct valuable observations as part of its K2 campaign. The results of this study are also a strong indication of the analytical power of asteroseismology and its ability to estimate the ages of stars. More revelations are expected as scientists continue to pour over data obtained by the mission before it ceased operations in November of 2018.

The analysis of this data will be combined with new information gathered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) – Kepler‘s spiritual successor, which took to space just seven months before Kepler retired. This information will further improve age estimates for even more stars within the disk and help astronomers to learn more about the formation and evolution of the Milky Way.

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