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Solar siblings? Astronomers discover sun's long-lost brother

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The star HD 162826 is probably a "solar sibling," that is, a star born in the same star cluster as the sun. It was identified by University of Texas at Austin astronomer Ivan Ramirez, in the process of honing a technique to find more solar siblings in the future, and eventually to determine how and where in the Milky Way galaxy the sun formed.Ivan Ramirez/Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory

It turns out that the sun has a long-lost brother -- and now astronomers are racing to map a solar family tree.

A new study from researchers at the University of Texas provides clues as to how our sun was formed, whether there are other “solar siblings” in our universe and, perhaps, a better understanding of how life in the universe was formed billions of years ago.

The finding, which will be published next month in The Astrophysical Journal, identifies a star that was almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas and dust as the sun. Located 110 light years away in the constellation Hercules, the star, called HD 162826, is 15 percent more massive than our sun, and can be seen with low-power binoculars.

"We want to know where we were born," University of Texas at Austin astronomer Ivan Ramirez said in a news release from McDonald Observatory. “If we can figure out in what part of the galaxy the sun formed, we can constrain conditions on the early solar system. That could help us understand why we are here.”

Ramirez and his eight-person team discovered HD 162826's relation to the sun by following up on 30 possible candidates found by several groups around the world looking for solar siblings. Ramirez's team studied 23 stars in-depth at McDonald Observatory and several stars, visible only from the southern hemisphere, using the Clay Magellan Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Both observations required the use of high-resolution spectorscopy to understand the stars' chemical makeup.

There's even a small chance these solar siblings could host life-sustaining planets. When these stars were born, collisions could have knocked chunks off planets, and these fragments could have traveled between solar systems -- perhaps bringing primitive life to Earth. Conversely, fragments from Earth could have sent life to planets orbiting other stars.

"It could be argued that solar siblings are the key candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life," Ramirez said.

Next, Ramirez’s team wants to create a road map for how to identify solar siblings, operating on the theory that the sun was born in a cluster with up to 100,000 stars. That cluster, however, formed more than 4.5 billion years ago, and has long since broken up, spreading the stars out to different parts of the Milky Way galaxy. Finding more solar siblings will provide the best clues toward discovering our sun’s origin, and Ramirez’s discovery is an important step in streamlining the identification process when it comes to tracking down stars with the same galactic DNA, he told FoxNews.com on Friday.

“Already, we’re getting a lot of data from a number of surveys,” Ramirez told FoxNews.com on Friday. “In five to 10 years from now, we’re going to be able to analyze 10,000 times more stars than what we’re able to do right now.”

FoxNews.com’s Karl de Vries contributed to this report.