An anonymous reader writes: Astronomers have developed a new technique to measure the surface gravity on distant stars. Earlier techniques relied on measuring the amount of light coming from the star, and were unreliable beyond a certain distance. The new work instead focuses on variations in the light over a longer period of time — indications of turbulence and vibration — which can provide detailed information at greater distances. One of the researchers, Professor Jaymie Matthews, said, "Our technique can tell you how big and bright is the star, and if a planet around it is the right size and temperature to have water oceans, and maybe life." According to their research paper, "We have tested this for a well-defined subsample of the Kepler catalog and found it to maintain a high accuracy, about six times better than that of the flicker method. In addition, it is more noise-tolerant than asteroseismology and gives a reasonably accurate surface gravity g for stars that are too faint for a reliable asteroseismic analysis. Therefore, the time scale technique makes it possible to study otherwise poorly understood stars, which will lead to better characterization of exoplanetary systems both individually and statistically."