Oldest Known Star Found: Astronomers Say It's 13.6 Billion Years Old

Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 11:52 AM

By Angela Deines

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Australian astronomers have identified what they believe is the oldest known star, one 400 million years older than previous ones believed to be the oldest stars in the universe.

Found in the Milky Way, the star is about 6,000 light years away from Earth and is estimated to be about 13.6 billion years old. The previous "oldest" stars were believed to be about 13.2 billion years in age.

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In the science journal Nature, the astronomers said they were able to calculate the age of the star they because it contained low amounts of iron.

“Such supernovae yield large quantities of light elements such as carbon but very little iron,” according to the Nature article, which went on to say the star “was seeded with material from a single supernova with an original mass about 60 times that of the Sun (and that the supernova left behind a black hole).”

"The telltale sign that the star is so ancient is the complete absence of any detectable level of iron in the spectrum of light emerging from the star," said Stefan Keller, the operational scientist at Australian National University's Mount Stromlo SkyMapper Observatory, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Keller said on Australian radio that stars are like time capsules and that this new star casts light on how the universe consumed gas more than 13 billion years ago. He said the star was likely created out of just one supernova and was a second-generation star that formed from fragments from a massive star that then died out quickly.

According to The Australian, professor Mike Bessell, who also contributed to the Nature article, identified the star, SMSS J031300.36-670839.3, while monitoring data from the SkyMapper telescope which has been conducting the first digital survey of the entire southern sky since it began operations in early 2012.

Bessell is reported to have emailed Keller saying, “We think we’ve found something pretty good here.”

“I knew when Mike said something was pretty good that we were on to something,” Keller told The Australian. “He’s a very understated sort of guy. I was very keen to have a look.”

"There's likely to be more stars like this, but they are very hard to find," Bessell said, according to the WSJ. "We have to sort through vast amounts of data to find the very few of them that are out there. It's a needle in a haystack."

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