The formula used in Gyrochronology that relates a star's Period of Rotation-Mass-Age is empirical?

This news How to Learn a Star’s True Age

"“A star’s rotation slows down steadily with time, like a top spinning on a table, and can be used as a clock to determine its age,"

and later I found this one (gyro_background) with original work.

But I couldnt find a justification for the formula. Is the Period proportional to $age^{{1/2}}$ only an empirical result?

It seems to me that the formula is a data fit and not a direct result of a calculation of the stellar intrinsic dynamics. The rate of mass loss by radiation must have a 'word to say' in the formula.
Any help is welcome.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please define your terms. What is $t$ here? Period of what? Yes, in principle we could read the papers, but you are asking for some help so it would behoove you to do a bit of work to make our lives easier. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2011 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ I will, until now I had'nt time enough to elaborate. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2011 at 8:40

2 Answers 2


Gyrochronology is semi-empirical in the sense that there is some justification for the temporal dependence that you mention. There is a line of argument for the $t^{1/2}$ dependence and it can be found on pp7-8 of this pedagogical review by Jerome Bouvier.


The basic idea is of a spherically symmetric, ionised wind that corotates with the star, held by its radial magnetic field, but which decouples from the magnetic field at some distance away from the star carrying away angular momentum. Further assuming a linear dynamo model, such that the magnetic field scales linearly with rotation rate, yields an angular momentum loss rate that is proportional to rotation rate cubed. Equating this to $I d\omega/dt$ (assuming a constant moment of inertia) leads to $\omega \propto t ^{-1/2}$ (or $P \propto t ^{1/2}$).

Some limitations of this model (and gyrochronology in general) are reviewed here (by me!).


For instance on the pre-main-sequence you can't assume a constant $I$; there are different ideas for how magnetic field scales with rotation rate; different ideas about magnetic topologies and different ideas for how the wind decouples from the magnetic field at large distances. All of these things mean it would be a surprise if rotation period was exactly proportional to the square root of time. The initial conditions also play a role at young ages - although the angular momentum losses lead to a convergence of rotation periods, this takes time, and is the dominant source of uncertainty (along with differential rotation), even at older ages.

So, the approach taken is to assume that rotation period can be represented by the product of a time-dependent function (usually taken to be $t^{n}$) and another function representing a mass-dependence. Observationally, the situation is that $n$ is found to be 0.52-0.57 by comparing the rotation periods of young Sun-like stars and the Sun itself. (e.g. Mamajek & Hillenbrand 2008, ApJ, 687, 1264). But this relationship is poorly calibrated at lower masses and also for stars older than the Sun.


Stars lose angular momentum via stellar winds, which because of the coupling of magnetic fields to the stellar surface exhibit a drag on the stars rotation. So we would expect them to slow over time, the real question is a what rate? Stellar magnetic activity which largely drives coronal activity is expected to be stronger with high rotation rates, but does anyone have any decent quantitative theory on this? In any case, another issue is the distribution of initial rotation rates.


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