AUSTIN (KXAN) – Astronomers are noticing something rather strange, stars appear to be “glitching”. The phenomenon was first observed in 2016 by astronomers in Australia. A “glitch” occurs when the structure of a star unexpectedly changes.

New research published this month in Nature Communications has found that not only can stars speed up when they “glitch”, but they can also affect the way sound waves pass through them.

The new observations were recorded after studying red clump stars. These Red Giants are stars nearing the end of their lives, when the star has used up all the hydrogen in its core and begins to burn the hydrogen on the outside of the star.

When a glitch occurs, the core of these red clump stars changes.

According to the research, the team observed 359 Red Giants that were all in a similar place in their life cycles. 24 of the observed stars appeared to glitch.

According to a release from Ohio State University, there are two reasons a star may be glitching. The first is that these “glitches” are just part of a star’s evolution, but are usually weak and not observable.

A Red Giant star is surrounded by a tenuous shell of gas in this unusual image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA and H. Olofsson (Onsala Space Observatory)

The other theory is that these “glitches” are a way in which the star corrects irregularities within the star. The researchers believe this theory more closely resemble their observations. However, more research is still needed before a conclusion is finalized.

Red Giants are used by astronomers to measure distance in deep space. They can help scientists study a galaxies density as well as the chemical evolution of a star.

The research was conducted using NASA’s Kepler space telescope by researchers at Ohio State University. Mathieu Vrard is the lead author on the paper.

Past ‘glitching’ stars across the Universe

News of observations of a neutron star glitching were first reported in 2019. That report, published in Nature Astronomy, studied the Vela Pulsar. The pulsar is about 1,000 light years away from Earth.

Neutron stars are created when a supergiant star collapses on itself. They are considered the smallest and densest objects in the universe besides black holes. Unlike traditional stars, they do not generate heat and are mostly made of neutrons. They typically spin at a constant rate.

This deep image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the Vela pulsar, a neutron star that was formed when a massive star collapsed. In the upper right is a fast moving jet of particles produced by the pulsar. The pulsar is about 1,000 light years from Earth, and makes over 11 complete rotations every second. Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Toronto/M.Durant et al; Optical: DSS/Davide De Martin

Initial observations of the pulsar were made in 2016. The pulsar would appear to slow down its rotation, before speeding up, according to the report. After the acceleration, the star would then slow to its original speed.

The researchers said that only 5% of pulsars are known to glitch. Vela appears to glitch once every three years.

The changes in speed allowed researchers to observe the various components of the neutron star.

“One of these components, a soup of superfluid neutrons in the inner layer of the crust, moves outwards first and hits the rigid outer crust of the star causing it to spin up,” said Dr. Paul Lasky, one of the researchers on the project, in a statement at the time.

The team said a second layer of the this same superfluid then causes the star to slow down. While predicted in the past, this was the first time this activity had been observed.

Observations were done at Mount Pleasant Observatory in Tasmania. The research was lead by Dr. Greg Ashton from the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy.