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Published July 2012 | Published
Journal Article Open

The remarkable solar twin HIP 56948: a prime target in the quest for other Earths


Context. The Sun shows abundance anomalies relative to most solar twins. If the abundance peculiarities are due to the formation of inner rocky planets, that would mean that only a small fraction of solar type stars may host terrestrial planets. Aims. In this work we study HIP 56948, the best solar twin known to date, to determine with an unparalleled precision how similar it is to the Sun in its physical properties, chemical composition and planet architecture. We explore whether the abundances anomalies may be due to pollution from stellar ejecta or to terrestrial planet formation. Methods. We perform a differential abundance analysis (both in LTE and NLTE) using high resolution (R ~ 100 000) high S/N (600–650) Keck HIRES spectra of the Sun (as reflected from the asteroid Ceres) and HIP 56948. We use precise radial velocity data from the McDonald and Keck observatories to search for planets around this star. Results. We achieve a precision of σ ≲ 0.003 dex for several elements. Including errors in stellar parameters the total uncertainty is as low as σ ≃ 0.005 dex (1%), which is unprecedented in elemental abundance studies. The similarities between HIP 56948 and the Sun are astonishing. HIP 56948 is only 17 ± 7 K hotter than the Sun, and log g, [Fe/H] and microturbulence velocity are only + 0.02 ± 0.02 dex, +0.02 ± 0.01 dex and +0.01 ± 0.01 km s^(-1) higher than solar, respectively. Our precise stellar parameters and a differential isochrone analysis shows that HIP 56948 has a mass of 1.02 ± 0.02 M_⊙ and that it is ~1 Gyr younger than the Sun, as constrained by isochrones, chromospheric activity, Li and rotation. Both stars show a chemical abundance pattern that differs from most solar twins, but the refractory elements (those with condensation temperature T_(cond) ≳ 1000 K) are slightly (~0.01 dex) more depleted in the Sun than in HIP 56948. The trend with T_(cond) in differential abundances (twins − HIP 56948) can be reproduced very well by adding ~3 M_⊕ of a mix of Earth and meteoritic material, to the convection zone of HIP 56948. The element-to-element scatter of the Earth/meteoritic mix for the case of hypothetical rocky planets around HIP 56948 is only 0.0047 dex. From our radial velocity monitoring we find no indications of giant planets interior to or within the habitable zone of HIP 56948. Conclusions. We conclude that HIP 56948 is an excellent candidate to host a planetary system like our own, including the possible presence of inner terrestrial planets. Its striking similarity to the Sun and its mature age makes HIP 56948 a prime target in the quest for other Earths and SETI endeavors.

Additional Information

© 2012 ESO. Received 10 May 2011. Accepted 12 April 2012. Published online: 22 June 2012. The entire Keck/HIRES user community owes a huge debt to Jerry Nelson, Gerry Smith, Steve Vogt, and many other people who have worked to make the Keck Telescope and HIRES a reality and to operate and maintain the Keck Observatory. We are grateful to the W. M. Keck Foundation for the vision to fund the construction of the W. M. Keck Observatory. The authors wish to extend special thanks to those of Hawaiian ancestry on whose sacred mountain we are privileged to be guests. Without their generous hospitality, none of the observations presented herein would have been possible. We thank Luca Casagrande for providing his estimates of Teff and log g for HIP 56948, and Candace Gray and Caroline Caldwell for obtaining some of the Tull spectra for precise radial velocities. J.M. would like to acknowledge support from USP (Novos Docentes), FAPESP (2010/17510-3) and CNPq (Bolsa de Produtividade). J.G.C. thanks NSF grant AST-0908139 for partial support. This work was performed in part (I.R.) under contract with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) funded by NASA through the Sagan Fellowship Program. ME, WDC and PJM were supported by NASA Origins of Solar Systems grant NNX09AB30G. This publication has made use of the SIMBAD database, operated at CDS, Strasbourg, France.

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