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Astronomers Discover Red Dwarf Stars are Much More Common than Thought

Universe is 20x larger than we thought

Dec 2 2010, 12:44pm CST | by

Astronomers Discover Red Dwarf Stars are Much More Common than Thought

If you live in a city where it's always lit up at night, you may not realize how many stars there are in the night sky. Venture out into a dark area of the rural country and you will see that there are millions of stars. The stars we can see in the night sky are only a small fraction of what is actually out there according to a new discovery made by astronomers.

Scientist has made a discovery that increases the number of red dwarf stars in the universe by a factor of 20. That makes the universe three times larger than previously though. The discovery that led to the massive increase in the number of stars in the galaxy had to do with small, dim starts called red dwarfs.

The small and dim stars had been hard to spot in our own galaxy and around other galaxies because they were overshadowed by larger and brighter stars. The scientist that made the discovery used powerful instruments at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to detect the faint signature of a red dwarfs in eight nearby galaxies called elliptical galaxies. The red dwarves the team discovered are about 10 or 20% as massive as our sun.

“No one knew how many of these stars there were,” said Pieter van Dokkum, a Yale University astronomer who led the research, which is described in Nature’s Dec.1 Advanced Online Publication. “Different theoretical models predicted a wide range of possibilities, so this answers a longstanding question about just how abundant these stars are.”

The discovery of more stars also boosts the expected number of planets in the universe and the number that might harbor life.

“There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars,” van Dokkum said, adding that the red dwarfs they discovered, which are typically more than 10 billion years old, have been around long enough for complex life to evolve. “It’s one reason why people are interested in this type of star.”

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