The stars studied in the article are so-called red giants. Our Sun will become a red giant in about 5 billion years. Their outer layers have expanded to more than 5 times their original size, and cooled down significantly so that they appear red. Meanwhile, their cores did exactly the opposite, and have contracted to an extremely hot and dense environment. To understand what has happened to a star’s spin consider what happens to an ice skater performing a pirouette. A spinning ice skater will slow down if the arms are stretched far out, and will spin faster if the arms are pulled tightly to the body. Similarly, the rotation of the expanding outer layers of the giant has slowed down, while the shrinking core has spun up.
The Kepler space telescope, is one of NASA’s most successful current space missions. Designed to search for Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of distant stars, the mission has detected numerous planetary candidates, and has confirmed many bona fide planets outside our solar system. Kepler is capable of detecting variations in a star’s brightness of only a few parts in a million, and its measurements are therefore ideally suited to detect the tiny waves mentioned above. The effect of rotation on these waves is so small, that its discovery needed two years of almost continuous data gathering by the Kepler satellite.
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The Nature Paper
Fast core rotation in red-giant stars as revealed by gravity-dominated mixed modes (DOI: 10.1038/nature 106212)
By Paul G. Beck, Josefina Montalban, Thomas Kallinger, Joris De Ridder, Conny Aerts, Rafael A. Garcıá, Saskia Hekker, Marc-Antoine Dupret, Benoit Mosser, Patrick Eggenberger, Dennis Stello, Yvonne Elsworth, Søren Frandsen, Fabien Carrier, Michel Hillen, Michael Gruberbauer, Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard, Andrea Miglio, Marica Valentini, Timothy R. Bedding, Hans Kjeldsen, Forrest R. Girouard, Jennifer R. Hall & Khadeejah A. Ibrahim
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