Photo Shows Dozens of New Variable Stars Detected by Scientists

This month, astronomers reported that they had detected 32 new variable stars, a discovery captured in a photo published by NASA. Variable stars are those whose brightness as seen from Earth varies, either because it fluctuates by itself or something occasionally blocks the light. Read on to find out more about what the scientists found, and why their discovery is notable.

What Did The Scientists Find?

Palomar 2 globular cluster.
ESA/Hubble & NASA

For years, a team of astronomers led by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have been observing globular cluster Palomar 2, a group of stars previously though to be located about 100,000 light years from Earth, in the constellation Auriga.

Using the 2.0-m telescope at the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO), the scientists say they've detected dozens of new variable stars—32, to be exact—which hadn't been done before. Their specific type could help researchers come to some fundamental understandings about the universe. (The findings were reported Aug. 16 in a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server.)

What's So Notable About Variables?

A variable red giant star hundreds of times larger then our own sun, is orbited by a companion star that siphoning stellar material into a disk encircling it.

"Variable stars could offer important hints into aspects of stellar structure and evolution," explains "They could also help us better understand the distance scale of the universe."

The newfound variables are mostly RR Lyrae stars. "In particular, the so-called RR Lyrae (RRL) variables are a powerful tool for studying the morphology, metallicity and age of galaxies, especially those with low surface brightness," the site explains.

Galaxy Nearer Than Thought

Comet C 2020 T2 Palomar next to the M3 star cluster, in the night sky.

If you're not an astronomy nerd—and if you aren't, who are you?—you may not get excited about this, but it's notable. The researchers also found that Palomar 2 is located approximately 86,000 light years away from the Earth, nearer than previously estimated.

More Variable Stars Discovered This Summer

Mr. Palomar Observatory at dusk

In June, researchers from Ohio State University said they had discovered more than 116,000 new variable stars. Their findings were gathered from The All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), a network of 20 telescopes worldwide that can observe the entire sky 50,000 times deeper than the human eye. The changes these stars undergo can reveal important information about their mass, radius, temperature and even their composition. In fact, even our sun is considered a variable star," the university said in a press release.

"A Stellar Laboratory"

V838 Monocerotis is a red variable star in the constellation Monoceros. Retouched colored image. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

"Variable stars are sort of like a stellar laboratory," said Collin Christy, lead author of that study and an astronomical analyst at Ohio State. "They're really neat places in the universe where we can study and learn more about how stars actually work and the little intricacies that they all have."

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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