ESO’s VLT provides new clues to help solve Solar lithium mystery

An international team led by astronomers in Brazil has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to identify and study the oldest solar twin known to date. Located 250 light-years from Earth, the star HIP 102152 is more like the Sun than any other solar twin — except that it is nearly four billion years older.

This image tracks the life of a Sun-like star, from its birth on the left side of the frame to its evolution into a red giant star on the right. On the left the star is seen as a protostar, embedded within a dusty disc of material as it forms. It later becomes a star like our Sun. After spending the majority of its life in this stage, the star's core begins to gradually heat up, the star expands and becomes redder until it transforms into a red giant. Following this stage, the star will push its outer layers into the surrounding space to form an object known as a planetary nebula, while the core of the star itself will cool into a small, dense remnant called a white dwarf star. Marked on the lower timeline are where our Sun and solar twins 18 Sco and HIP 102152 are in this life cycle. The Sun is 4.6 billion years old and 18 Sco is 2.9 billion years old, while the oldest solar twin is some 8.2 billion years old —  the oldest solar twin ever identified. By studying HIP 102152, we can get a glimpse of what the future holds for our Sun. This image is illustrative; the ages, sizes, and colours are approximate (not to scale). The protostar stage, on the far left of this image, can be some 2000  times larger than our Sun. The red giant stage, on the far right of this  image, can be some 100 times larger than the Sun.

This older, but almost identical, twin gives us an unprecedented chance to see how the Sun will look when it ages. The new observations also provide an important first clear link between a star’s age and its lithium content, and in addition suggest that HIP 102152 may be host to rocky terrestrial planets.
Astronomers have only been observing the Sun with telescopes for 400 years — a tiny fraction of the Sun’s age of 4.6 billion years. It is very hard to study the history and future evolution of our star, but we can do this by hunting for rare stars that are almost exactly like our own, but at different stages of their lives. Now astronomers have identified a star that is essentially an identical twin to our Sun, but 4 billion years older — almost like seeing a real version of the twin paradox in action [1].
Jorge Melendez (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), the leader of the team and co-author of the new paper explains: “For decades, astronomers have been searching for solar twins in order to know our own life-giving Sun better. But very few have been found since the first one was discovered in 1997. We have now obtained superb-quality spectra from the VLT and can scrutinise solar twins with extreme precision, to answer the question of whether the Sun is special.”

This image shows solar twin HIP 102152, a star located 250 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Capricornus (The Sea Goat). HIP 102152 is more like the Sun than any other solar twin — apart from the fact that it is nearly four billion years older, giving us an unprecedented chance to study how the Sun will look when it ages. It is the oldest solar twin identified to date, and was studied by an international team using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, led by astronomers in Brazil. The different colours of the star are caused by the star moving slightly between the two exposures, many years apart.