Science_afficionado writes: By measuring the flicker pattern of light from distant stars, astronomers have developed a new and improved method for measuring the masses of millions of Solitary Stars, especially those hosting exoplanets. Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun says, "First, we use the total light from the Star and its parallax to infer its diameter. Next, we analyze the way in which the light from the star flickers, which provides us with a measure of its surface gravity. Then we combine the two to get the star's total mass." Stassun and his colleagues describe the method and demonstrate its accuracy using 675 stars of known mass in an article titled "Empirical, accurate masses and radii of single stars with TESS and GAIA" accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal. David Salisbury via Vanderbilt University explains the other methods of determining the mass of distant stars, and why they aren't always the most accurate: "Traditionally, the most accurate method for determining the mass of distant stars is to measure the orbits of double star systems, called binaries. Newton's laws of motion allow astronomers to calculate the masses of both stars by measuring their orbits with considerable accuracy. However, fewer than half of the star systems in the galaxy are binaries, and binaries make up only about one-fifth of red dwarf stars that have become prized hunting grounds for exoplanets, so astronomers have come up with a variety of other methods for estimating the masses of solitary stars. The photometric method that classifies stars by color and brightness is the most general, but it isn't very accurate. Asteroseismology, which measures light fluctuations caused by sound pulses that travel through a star's interior, is highly accurate but only works on several thousand of the closest, brightest stars." Stassun says his method "can measure the mass of a large number of stars with an accuracy of 10 to 25 percent," which is "far more accurate than is possible with other available methods, and importantly it can be applied to solitary stars so we aren't limited to binaries."
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