Universe  ID: 13605

TESS Aids Breakthrough in Puzzling Stellar Flashes

Astronomers have detected elusive pulsation patterns in dozens of young, rapidly rotating stars thanks to data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The discovery will revolutionize scientists' ability to study details like the ages, sizes and compositions of these stars — all members of a class named for the prototype, the bright star Delta Scuti.

Geologists studying seismic waves from earthquakes figured out Earth's internal structure from the way the reverberations changed speed and direction as they traveled through it. Astronomers apply the same principle to study the interiors of stars through their pulsations, a field called asteroseismology.

Sound waves travel through a star's interior at speeds that change with depth, and they all combine into pulsation patterns at the star's surface. Astronomers can detect these patterns as tiny fluctuations in brightness and use them to determine the star's age, temperature, composition, internal structures and other properties.

But scientists have had trouble interpreting Delta Scuti pulsations. These stars generally rotate once or twice a day, at least a dozen times faster than the Sun. The rapid rotation flattens the stars at the poles and jumbles the pulsation patterns, making them more complicated and difficult to decipher.

Using new data from TESS and archived information from ground observatories and NASA's now-retired Kepler space telescope, astrophysicists identified a batch of 60 Delta Scuti stars with clear patterns for the first time.


Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Lead Producer
Jeanette Kazmierczak (University of Maryland College Park): Lead Science Writer
Francis Reddy (University of Maryland College Park): Science Writer
Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Lead Animator
Tim Bedding (University of Sydney): Scientist
Simon Murphy (University of Sydney): Scientist
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. However, individual items should be credited as indicated above.