Tim De Chant/NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration
Hard Science

Stars Are Cooling Faster Than Predicted, and Axions May Be to Blame

Stellar systems are cooling faster than models predict, and physicists are off to find out why.

Cecille De JesusAugust 13th 2016

Stellar Sweat

Earlier this year, physicist Maurizio Giannotti of Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, presented his computations at the International Axion Observatory (IAXO). He outlined how “practically every stellar system seems to be cooling faster than predicted by the models.”

While the IAXO’s convention highlights how axions or axion-like particles (ALPs) are a candidate for dark matter, a previous study has eliminated these particles as contenders for the enigmatic particles.

But regardless of where axions stand in the dark matter argument (we’ll leave that debate to the experts), Giannotti believes that these particles are responsible for the accelerated cooling of stars.  

When individually observed, the difference isn’t substantial enough to notice. But collectively, the consistent pattern suggests that something peculiar is happening. Analysis of measurements in the periodic pulsation, or the dimming and brightening, of white dwarf variable stars show that all stars show excess cooling, far more than previous predictions assumed they would.  

Giannotti’s calculations posit that the anomalous cooling of stars are consistent with the emission of axions.

Light axions can be produced in stars through different processes, with the Sun being a major catalyst. The emission of axions could lead to “an overly efficient energy drain,” since they carry energy with them as they dissipate, resulting in stellar cooling—like sweat cooling off the human body.

Is the Math Right?

As with all other theories in astrophysics (and science in general), very few will actually make it to the books.

Giannotti is firm on the probability of his axion explanation…unless he miscalculated. Although from an outsider’s perspective, the explanation sounds well enough, this research is likely to remain in limbo for the scientific community until either somebody finds a discrepancy in the computations, or Giannotti replicates his results consistently.

When it comes to topics involving some of the universe’s most elusive particles, it’s practically impossible to prove or disprove theories.

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