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Mu Herculis

May 4, 2010

Hercules, the strongman, is a large constellation that doesn't quite live up to its name. Its stars are all faint, and easily outshined by the brilliant star Vega in neighboring Lyra, the harp. Even so, Hercules harbors an intriguing star that in some ways seems to be an older version of the Sun -- and thus a star that's had time to give rise to intelligent life.

Mu Herculis is just 27 light-years away. It's visible to the unaided eye, but like its constellation, it's hardly a spectacle -- just a faint speck of light.

Mu Herculis is about as massive as the Sun. And like the Sun, small vibrations race through its interior and shake its surface. Just as earthquakes help probe the interior of Earth, these stellar "quakes" help probe a star's interior.

The quakes can even be used to help determine the star's age. By analyzing the vibrations of Mu Herculis, astronomers recently estimated that the star is about two billion years older than the Sun and Earth.

That's important because on Earth, intelligent life took billions of years to develop. Since Mu Herculis is even older than Earth, there's been plenty of time for intelligent life to develop on its planets.

So far, though, no one yet knows if it has planets. One promising sign is that the star has a lot of iron and other planet-forming materials.

Future observations may tell us whether Mu Herculis is the home of another civilization -- just down the celestial block from our own.

Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2010

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