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article imageNASA's sun mission finds new sets of star twins

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Jun 17, 2011 in Science
Teams from three universities in the UK used NASA's solar satellite-duo STEREO, sent to study the sun up close from "stereo" orbits, to survey distant variable stars and find eclipsing binaries, plus any exoplanets the project's images happen to reveal.
While surveying variable stars using NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory -- the sun-orbiting twin satellites of the STEREO mission -- research teams from the Science and Technologies Facilities Council Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the University of Central Lancashire and the Open University found 122 previously unknown eclipsing binary stars and may discover exoplanets (or planets outside our solar system) as a bonus, NASA reports.
According to NASA's news story about the star survey project that was presented April 19 at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy 2011 Meeting in Llandudno, Wales:
The teams discovered the new sets of twin stars while surveying hundreds of known variable stars using STEREO's Heliospheric Imagers in an usual way.
Though STEREO's primary mission is solar study, the HI cameras' capabilities make the twin spacecraft ideal resources for studying variable stars' changing brightness levels, according to Joseph Gurman, STEREO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
This March 7  2010 STEREO Heliospheric Imager (HI-1A) image (left) shows two variable stars (highlig...
This March 7, 2010 STEREO Heliospheric Imager (HI-1A) image (left) shows two variable stars (highlighted). The graphs on the right show the varying brightness of the two stars, V837 Tau and V1129 Tau (right top and bottom, respectively).
The HI cameras on the spacecraft are helping astronomers determine the periods of variable stars with pinpoint accuracy, by providing repeat viewings during the year and allowing continuous sampling over 20 day periods, a lead researcher from the project explained.
The team leaders also indicated, accurate measurements with the HI cameras of extremely minute shifts in star brightness could help them understand more about the internal structures and seismic activities of stars, as well as reveal the presence of transiting exoplanets.
The STEREO mission was launched in October 2006 to provide new dual views of the Sun-Earth System and more accurately predict space weather phenomena, such as geomagnetic and solar radiation storms, from two almost identical observatories, one orbiting the sun ahead of Earth and the other a ways behind.
Professional and amateur astronomers have long collaborated to study variable stars over extended periods, because their changes in brightness provide clues about stellar properties in general, according to the American Association of Variable Star Observers.
By studying the behavior of binary star systems, astronomers can determine the mass of stars directly, according to an astronomy question and answer reference published by Wichita State University.
More about NASA STEREO, Binary stars, new binary stars, twin stars, star twins