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'True sibling of the Sun' found: Brother star could reveal extraterrestrial life

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A group of Texas astronomers have found a close compositional matching star to the Sun. Relatively close, the star hangs out on the lower leg of the constellation Hercules. Scientists believe that not only might the identification of a solar twin to the Sun lead to discovering the origins of our own parent star but that it just might lead to understanding the origin of life on planet Earth -- or one better, lead to the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

"We want to know where we were born," astronomer Ivan Ramirez of the University of Texas said in a written statement, a University of Texas at Austin release revealed May 8. "If we can figure out in what part of the galaxy the sun formed, we can constrain conditions on the early solar system. That could help us understand why we are here."

The star, designated HD 162826, is believed to have been born about 4.5 billion years ago in the same star cluster as that which produced the Sun. It is located approximately 110 light years from Earth and is a bit too faint, even though it is 15 percent larger than the Sun, to see with the naked eye. However, a pair of binoculars brings the star into view. It can easily be found up and slightly to the right of the star Vega as part of the aforementioned leg of Hercules.

HD 162826 was just one 30 stars that other astronomers had identified as potential solar siblings. Using the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, and coordinating with researchers at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, Ramirez and his team at the University of Texas pared down the list by analyzing the orbit and chemical makeup of each candidate star. After researching the data, HD 162826 was the only star in the group that fit the "dynamical and chemical criteria for being a true sibling of the Sun."

Astronomers hope that by studying the origins of stars like our Sun, they might find the answer to the origin of life. Evidence also strongly indicates that sibling stars could host Earth-like exoplanets that just might support extraterrestrial life.

“So it could be argued that solar siblings are key candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life,” Ramirez said in the release.

According to a 2012 article in Space.com, the basic premise concerning the prevalence of life suggests that if an Earth-like planet were hit by an asteroid, one that could shield life from radiation in its travels through space, then that asteroid might one day deposit its living organisms (or the chemical building blocks of life) on a suitable planet.

The search for extraterrestrial life also recently got a boost from a study on binary star systems. Discovery News reported that, according to astrophysicist Paul Mason of the University of Texas at El Paso, the presence of two suns extends the area of the habitable zones of planets within their sphere of influence. Moons in such systems would have a stabilizing effect on such worlds, thus providing those worlds with increased potential for harboring life.

Ramirez' team's sibling sun findings will be published in the June 1 edition of The Astronphysical Journal.

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