At first glance, galaxy NGC 7714 resembles a partial golden ring from an amusement park ride. This unusual structure is a river of Sun-like stars that has been pulled deep into space by the gravitational tug of a bypassing galaxy (not seen in this Hubble Space Telescope photo). Though the universe is full of such colliding galaxies that are distorted in a gravitational taffy-pull, NGC 7714 is particularly striking for the seeming fluidity of the stars along a vast arc. The near-collision between the galaxies happened at least 100 million years ago.
Astrophysics: Stellar clocks
Nature 517, 7536 (2015). doi:10.1038/517557a
Authors: David Soderblom
A link between rotation and age for Sun-like stars has long been known, but a stringent test of it for older stars has been lacking. The Kepler mission helps to fill this gap with observations of an old star cluster. See Letter p.589
A spin-down clock for cool stars from observations of a 2.5-billion-year-old cluster
Nature 517, 7536 (2015). doi:10.1038/nature14118
Authors: Søren Meibom, Sydney A. Barnes, Imants Platais, Ronald L. Gilliland, David W. Latham & Robert D. Mathieu
The ages of the most common stars—low-mass (cool) stars like the Sun, and smaller—are difficult to derive because traditional dating methods use stellar properties that either change little as the stars age or are hard to measure. The rotation rates of all cool stars decrease substantially with time as the stars steadily lose their angular momenta. If properly calibrated, rotation therefore can act as a reliable determinant of their ages based on the method of gyrochronology. To calibrate gyrochronology, the relationship between rotation period and age must be determined for cool stars of different masses, which is best accomplished with rotation period measurements for stars in clusters with well-known ages. Hitherto, such measurements have been possible only in clusters with ages of less than about one billion years, and gyrochronology ages for older stars have been inferred from model predictions. Here we report rotation period measurements for 30 cool stars in the 2.5-billion-year-old cluster NGC 6819. The periods reveal a well-defined relationship between rotation period and stellar mass at the cluster age, suggesting that ages with a precision of order 10 per cent can be derived for large numbers of cool Galactic field stars.