Probing Galactic variations in the fine-structure constant using solar twin stars: methodology and results

Daniel A. Berke, Michael T. Murphy, Chris Flynn, Fan Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The rich absorption spectra of Sun-like stars are enticing probes for variations in the fine-structure constant, α, which gauges the strength of electromagnetism. While individual line wavelengths are sensitive to α, they are also sensitive to physical processes in the stellar atmospheres, which has precluded their use so far. Here we demonstrate a new differential approach using solar twins: velocity separations between close pairs of transitions are compared across stars with very similar physical properties, strongly suppressing astrophysical and instrumental systematic errors. We utilize 423 archival exposures of 18 solar twins from the High-Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Searcher (HARPS), in which calibration errors can be reduced to ≾3 m s−1. For stars with ≈10 high-signal-to-noise ratio spectra (≥200 per pixel), velocity separations between pairs are measured with ≈10 m s−1 statistical precision. A companion paper assesses a range of systematic error sources using 130 stars, with a greater range of stellar parameters, providing accurate corrections for astrophysical effects and a residual, intrinsic star-to-star scatter of 0–13 m s−1. Within these uncertainties, we find no evidence for velocity separation differences in 17 transition pairs between solar twins. In a second companion paper, this is found to limit local (≾50 pc) variations in α to ≈50 parts per billion, ∼2 orders of magnitude less than other Galactic constraints.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1238-1252
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • methods: observational
  • stars: solar-type

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