Saturday science subject: The sun's twin

— 8:17 PM on October 6, 2007

200 light years away from Earth lies a star remarkably similar to the Sun that could very well harbor inhabited planets, according to a report by the New Scientist. The star, which is dubbed HIP 56948, has a size, mass, temperature, and chemical makeup so similar to the Sun's that "no measurable differences could be found in high-resolution observations made by the 2.7-metre (8.86-foot) telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Texas, US," the New Scientist says. The publication elaborates:

Other very Sun-like stars have previously been identified, including 18 Scorpii, HD 98618, and HIP 100963. But those three stars have several times more lithium than the Sun, while HIP 56948 is almost identical to the Sun in this respect as well, making it an even closer match.

That similarity might be important, since some studies have suggested that stars with less lithium are less active, experiencing fewer outbursts, or flares, that can bathe planets in deadly radiation, says [Ivan Ramirez of the University of Texas]. If that is borne out by further observations, this star probably has a higher chance of harbouring life than other solar doppelgangers, he says.

HIP 56948 seems to be one billion years older than the Sun, as well, which suggests life could have had more time to evolve on suitable planets that might be orbiting the star. The New Scientist reports that HIP 56948 along with 17,000 other Sun-like stars will be observed for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence by the Allen Telescope Array near San Francisco starting in November.

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