Stars Aren’t Just Twinkling, They’re Quaking

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Photo: Stars from Kepler
This image shows just 0.2 percent of the full field of view of the Kepler Space Telescope. The image has been color-coded so that brighter stars appear white, and fainter stars, red. Asteroseismologists, who study oscillations in stars, are using data from Colorado-built and run Kepler to further their research.

Many people know that seismology is the study of earthquakes. Fewer people may be familiar with the more obscure field of asteroseismology -- the study of quakes in stars. That discipline is getting a big boost from data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope, which was built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder and is run by students at the University of Colorado.

Scientists have known for some time that the sun's surface quakes, says Doug Duncan, director of the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder. Heat bubbles up from below, hits the surface, and creates a ripple not unlike a bubble in your oatmeal, he explains. Asteroseismologists wanted to learn if more stars experienced a similar phenomenon.

That's when they turned to Kepler. The telescope was designed to stare at distant stars and search for planets as they transited in front. But scientists figured the data collected could also reveal oscillations in those stars. Duncan recently attended a conference in Italy where scientists reported new findings on quaking stars using data from Kepler. The information is helping determine the size and age of the distant stars. Duncan spoke with Colorado Matters' host Andrea Dukakis.

Audio for this story will be available after noon Tuesday.