One of the most important factors when studying an exoplanet’s viability in regards to alien life or possible colonization is gravity. The fact that an advance in stars’ gravity analysis can help with habitable planet detection makes the process much more conclusive, because if gravity is too strong or too weak, life cannot flourish on said exoplanets.
The star’s gravity is linked to the planets’ gravitational pull because, in order for an Earth-like planet to exist, a star similar to our Sun must also be present. Up to this point, astronomers were able to calculate the surface gravity of stars only in our vicinity, leaving distant stars to be shrouded in mystery.
Surface gravity is basically calculated by how much a person would weigh on the surface of the star, considering that the star had a solid exterior. For example, on our Sun, one would weigh 20 times more than on our Earth. On the other hand, if the star would be a red giant nearing its end, its gravitational force would diminish extensively, making you weigh 30 times less than on Earth.
This surface gravity was previously calculated by measuring the star’s light and brightness. But the team comprised from astronomers and scientists from various universities have created a new formula. This method consists of calculating the amount of turbulence and vibration present on the star’s surface, gravity being directly influenced by the timescale of these two aforementioned factors.
By applying this formula to distant stars, the team was able to measure the variations in brightness in direct correlation with their surface gravity. Even so, this autocorrelation function timescale technique, the name of the formula, is still in its early stages. It will likely change once it is applied to the data gathered from distant stars which we have already studied, because gravity affects light as it travels across space, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
The first planets that have been declared as viable subjects on which to apply the newly found theory are described as “Goldilocks” planets. These 20 exoplanets have the right temperature to support life, but their size and gravity levels are still unknown. This will no longer be the case because the autocorrelation technique will portray the size of the planet, as well as a better reading of its temperatures in order to discern if the exoplanet is capable of housing oceans.
Although these readings are just theoretical, we will, hopefully, be able to one day visit these planets, if our technology will advance to a level which will permit near-light speeds or even surpass them. Either way, this new formula will more than likely improve our capabilities of discerning if a planet is capable of housing life or not, even if just in theory.
Because the advance in stars’ gravity analysis can help with habitable planet detection, astronomers are currently applying it to viable planets as we speak. Although the process might take some time, even if just one planet is deemed 100% habitable, the sacrifice will be completely worth it.