Well, here’s a superlative for you. With the help of Australia’s SkyMapper telescope, astronomers have discovered the oldest star in the known universe, some 6000 light-years away from Earth — and the star’s chemistry could change the way we understand the Big Bang.
The star itself isn’t like our sun and not just because it’s nearly 13.7 billion years old. “To make a star like our sun, you take the basic ingredients of hydrogen and helium from the Big Bang and add an enormous amount of iron — the equivalent of about 1000 times the Earth’s mass,” Dr Stefan Keller from the Australian National University said. “To make this ancient star, you need no more than an Australia-sized asteroid of iron and lots of carbon. It’s a very different recipe that tells us a lot about the nature of the first stars and how they died.” Keller added that this star’s supernova probably wasn’t very violent, contradicting what scientists previously thought about primordial stars.
Keller’s team says that a discovery like this is one in a million, so they’ll have to make the most of it. It’s still also just the first step of many, however, in understanding what the early universe was like. Luckily, we’ve been taking a lot of these first steps lately. [ANU]