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Ancient Star Found, Estimated at 13.2 Billion Years Old 377

Posted by Zonk
from the insert-your-mom-joke-here dept.
raguirre writes "An article on Physorg.org reports that a newly found star may be as old as the universe itself. Recent studies have concluded that the Big Bang occurred somewhere in the neighborhood of 13.7 Billion years ago. The star, a heavy-elements laden fossil labeled HE 1523-0901 on charts was probably born right around the same time; approximately 13.2 Billion years ago. 'Today, astronomer Anna Frebel of the the University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory and her colleagues have deduced the star's age based on the amounts of radioactive elements it contains compared to certain other "anchor" elements, specifically europium, osmium and iridium.'"
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Ancient Star Found, Estimated at 13.2 Billion Years Old

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  • by saintlupus (227599) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:37PM (#19099401) Homepage
    Of course, according to some pastors, that star is only a few thousand years old. It barely predates The Flood.

    --saint
    • by goombah99 (560566) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @07:22PM (#19099675)
      A thousand, a billion, it still wants you off it's lawn.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Wow - right out of the gate! First post and we're already into creationism bashing!
      • While I don't defend him for being completely off topic, he doesn't make such a bad point.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          But are these points relevant? Did the article feature young earthers criticizing the claims in any way? I don't understand why we have to have the religion debate every time an article mentions a date more than 6000 years in the past.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I don't understand why we have to have the religion debate every time an article mentions a date more than 6000 years in the past.
            Because where I live, the majority of people actually believe in creationism, so an article claiming something is billions of years old doesn't make much sense.

            Yes, I wish we didn't have to bring it up, but sadly, it's not off topic.
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by agent1999 (1098865)
              Uh. Consider this 'fact' - three of the Republican US Presidential Candidates said last week that they "Didn't Believe In Evolution." Is anyone actually trying to say that the faith is more highly regarded than the science - despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the science? If Faith trumps Science, we're no better than the Taliban - just different. The age of the known universe is absolutely relevant.
          • Like I said, I agree it was off topic, and hence should be modded down as flamebait/troll.
  • by LBArrettAnderson (655246) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:38PM (#19099407)
    Recent studies have concluded that the Big Bang occurred somewhere in the neighborhood of 13.7 Billion years ago. The star, a heavy-elements laden fossil labeled HE 1523-0901 on charts was probably born right around the same time; approximately 13.2 Billion years ago.

    Since when was "right around the same time" the same thing as "500 million years later" ?
    • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:41PM (#19099431) Homepage
      Since the quantity in question (500m) represents only about 3% of the other quantity in question (13.7b)
      • "...have deduced the star's age based on the amounts of radioactive elements it contains compared to certain other "anchor" elements, specifically europium, osmium and iridium."

        Of course, who's to say that their method of dating stars isn't wrong.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        3% isn't "nearly equivalent", except perhaps in political opinion polls. One in thirty three to thirty four? That's a non-negligible quantity.

        Especially when the precision of measuring things near the beginning of time is at the femtosecond scale. 1.57788E28 ticks is very different from 1 tick.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by VorpalEdge (967279)
      This is astronomy. 500 million years is negligible if you're talking about the beginnings of the universe. :/ And if I remember correctly (it's been a while), conditions right after the big bang were such that stars could not form for a while. Can't remember much else then that, but this probably is one of the first stars the universe formed if their observations + math are correct.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kristoph (242780)
        Actually, given it's composition, it's likely a second or third generation star (although I have not RTFA so I could be full of crap). Anyway, relevant stuff certainly did happen in those 500 million years.

        ]{
    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @07:00PM (#19099551)
      Took 500 million years. So we should be able to work out how long God's days are!!!!

       
      • Read an interesting book about that awhile back... worked out to noticing that the creation story was centered around God (center of the universe), and the the rest of the bible was around men's stories.

        So, if you have all the mass at the "center" of the universe, relativity will stretch time, and 1 day will expand to be huge... the second day will be shorter, etc.
        He even mapped the events of those initial days to points in the cosmic birth (ie, creation of light, creation of baryons, formation of planets,
    • by bitt3n (941736) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @07:47PM (#19099839)

      Since when was "right around the same time" the same thing as "500 million years later" ?
      "Hi honey, I'm on my way to pick you up for the movies, and I'll be there in half an hour."
      "Great! I just have to get dressed, so I should be ready right around the same time."
    • by QuickFox (311231) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @09:03PM (#19100299)

      Since when was "right around the same time" the same thing as "500 million years later" ?
      What? You think 500 million years is a long time?

      *Sigh!* Today's youth, always impatient.
    • by Boronx (228853)
      Since when was "right around the same time" the same thing as "500 million years later" ?

      Since 13 Billion years later, that's when.
  • Aye (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:39PM (#19099415) Homepage
    "a newly found start may be as old as the universe itself"

    Well, that's why they call it a 'start' isn't it?
  • Heavy elements? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:43PM (#19099447) Homepage Journal
    The star, a heavy-elements laden fossil labeled HE 1523-0901 on charts was probably born right around the same time; approximately 13.2 Billion years ago.

    I thought early stars had very few heavy elements because there had yet to be multiple generations of stars to produce such. Thus, where did the heavy elements come from?
               
    • I thought early stars had very few heavy elements because there had yet to be multiple generations of stars to produce such. Thus, where did the heavy elements come from?

      The Big Bang?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BungaDunga (801391)
        The big bang produced lots and lots of protons + electrons. Some got together and formed hydrogen and helium; beyond that, you need stars to produce heavier elements.
        • by Nimey (114278)
          Yes, that's what the theory says. But it's a theory, and possibly it'll be proved wrong. Or possibly not.
    • Re:Heavy elements? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:51PM (#19099503) Homepage Journal
      You're right, and this is one of the confusing things about the writeup, especially since they call it a metal poor star near the beginning and say it's rich in radioactives later.

      The Big Bang stopped more or less at helium, and things like uranium have to cook in non-equilibrium processes like supernovas.

      500 million years is enough time for that to happen, since a supergiant star can race through its entire lifetime in a few million years. This could have formed from the remnants of one of the earliest supernovas, or it could be several generations old.
      • by lawpoop (604919)

        The Big Bang stopped more or less at helium, and things like uranium have to cook in non-equilibrium processes like supernovas.
        So then what defines the big bang, so that we can say when it ends? I was under the impression that we were in the middle of the big bang, that the big bang is basically the universe itself, it's just that we're sort of in the middle or end of the explosion part. It isn't so bangin' now.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mdsolar (1045926)
        What is interesting to me is that the Milky Way has stars of this age which formed before the universe reionized. Obviously something had to be happening for reionization to happen, but did the matter that formed the Milky Way have to be a part of it? More massive protogalaxies might have done the job and stars for the Milky Way formed latter. A solid date like this says that even a smaller body like the protoMilky Way was doing this kind of thing.
      • Re:Heavy elements? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Agent Orange (34692) <christhom&gmail,com> on Saturday May 12, 2007 @10:52PM (#19100853)
        That's correct. The star is metal-poor -- it's has an iron abundance (the standard measure of how much metals a star has) of [Fe/H] = -2.95. This is a lograthmic scale, and means that, on a scale where the sun is 0.0, HE1523 has about 1/1000th the amount of iron. The bracket notation means [Fe/H] = log10{N(Fe}/N(H)} - log10{N(Fe)/N(H)}_sun...i.e. the logarithmic difference of the number of atoms of Fe, compared to hydrogen, normalised to the solar ratio.

        But the kicker is that HE1523 is very heavily r-process enhanced too...which means that it has a lot r-process, neutron-capture elements (think Uranium and thorium), compared to how much iron it has. HE1523 has [r/Fe] = 1.8....which means it has a 100 times more r-process heavy metals compared to iron, than does the sun.

        BOTH of these factors are very important for this measurement, because you need to have very few metals, very high signal-to-noise data, very high resolution, and very strong r-process abundance, in order to be able to observe the uranium line. Anna needed 7.5hrs of VLT time to get a signal-to-noise ratio of about 350 or so...much higher than the S/N ~ 50-75 that we got from Magellan.

        You can get a pdf of the paper here [arxiv.org]. Check out Fig 2, which shows the relevant part of the spectrum, with the Uranium line. See how it's right next to the booming Fe line...that's why we need a low iron abundance to do this work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by radurusu (209720)
      This is likely a 2nd or 3rd generation star. The heavy elements likely came from a short-lived (and larger) nearby star that went nova/supernova and seeded the region around it with heavy elements. Probably the shock wave from the supernova was the very thing that triggered star formation in the nearby hydrogen cloud.

      Large stars burn out much more quickly than stars like Sol. Though none of them last long enough for intelligent life to develop in their solar system, they are essential to life in the univ
  • Heavy elements? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sakdoctor (1087155)
    I only had time to skim TFA, but it says this ancient star contains heavy elements (Heavier than iron). Since the fusion reaction that produces iron consumes energy, the heavy elements must have come from a different star.
    0.5 billion years seems quite quick for a few stars to go super nova, then condense into another star with the required heavy elements in.
    • by nbritton (823086)

      0.5 billion years seems quite quick for a few stars to go super nova, then condense into another star with the required heavy elements in.
      It's possible that two stars could have collided into one another. Doesn't this happen with planets all the time?
    • Re:Heavy elements? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2007 @07:19PM (#19099657)
      Because of the higher density of the universe back then, the first few dozen generations of star were probably all super-massive giants that only have a lifespan of between 10 and 100 million years. The first supernova-generated elements were introduced to the universe very early, in fact production of them used to be orders of magnitudes higher at the beginning.
    • Re:Heavy elements? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Graymalkin (13732) * on Saturday May 12, 2007 @07:33PM (#19099745)
      Supergiant and hypergiant stars (like Eta Carinae and SN 2006gy's progenitor) don't have long lifetimes and were likely prevalent in the early universe. Their deaths could have formed a lot of the heavy elements in HE 1523-0901. Five hundred million years is plenty of time for a lot of 100-120 solar mass giants to burn out and go supernova. It's likely the remnants of these early giants produced most of the stellar nurseries the next generation of less massive stars were born in.
      • Just an addition to the parents info. Hypergiants are thought to last one to three million years before the supernova/hypernova stage.
  • by jez9999 (618189) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @06:54PM (#19099527) Homepage Journal
    Isn't everything as old as the universe; it just all shifted into different forms? (Like planet Earth)
    • Well, Joan Rivers is slightly older, but the "how" involves a lot of math and I can't really explain it here.
  • by Brad1138 (590148) * <brad1138@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 12, 2007 @07:25PM (#19099689)
    Did someone dig up Bob Hope again?
  • Would the Guardians please send someone over to sort out this business with Sinestro ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H George Bush?
  • by Agent Orange (34692) <christhom&gmail,com> on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:00PM (#19100893)
    There is a little confusion about how the elements are created, and where HE1523 got all it's metals from...so here is a quick primer on the way things work.

    The big bang forms hydrogen, dueterium, some helium, and a tiny amount of lithium. In fact, the theory of what should be formed (called Big Bang Nucleosynthesis), and what is observed, agree incredibly well.

    Most stars just burn hydrogen into helium, fusing the two hydrogen atoms. More massive stars burn hotter, and so they can ignite helium burning, forming carbon, nitrogen, oxygen etc. The hotter the star gets, the heavier things can be fused, all the way up to iron. All of these processes *release* energy, if you can get it hot enough to start the reaction.

    After iron, to make heavier elements you have to *put in* energy, so the way elements are formed is different. Instead of fusing two things together, you now just add a single neutron to the nucleus. This is a very different process (called neutron capture)...and can happen veeeery slowly (in stars) or very rapidly (in supernova explosions).

    So, uranium and thorium are both elements which are made in the rapid process (r-process) -- they are only made in supernova explosions...because in a supernova, the neutron density is very high, so catching one is more likely.

    Anyway...the point of all this is that, by observing uranium, we KNOW there had to have been at least one dying star going supernova, which made the uranium. Then that gas collapsed again later, to make anna's star.

    So far, no-one has yet managed to find a first-generation star, but it's a big area of research at the moment, and is one of the things anna is trying hard to find. By looking at these very old stars, we get a good picture of how a supernova works, because we see the product of ONLY ONE of them. With young stars, there might have been hundreds, all polluting the gas at different times...and disentangling that is really tough.

    As for the age of the universe, WMAP [nasa.gov] told us that very precisely -- 13.7Gyr (with an error of only ~0.1Gyr). The age we derived from HE1523 is much less precise...but nucleocosmochronometry (stellar age dating), is an incredibly tough thing to do, but it does offer independant confirmationg of the WMAP result.
  • ATHF 2 (Score:5, Funny)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:05PM (#19100923)
    An ancient sun.

    An alien with a secret.

    An astronomer with a past.

    A galaxy thorn asunder.

    An astronaut on the edge.

    A hidden moon.

    A mythical planet.

    An ancient.. mythical.. secret.. planet sun guy.

    And a flaming chicken.

    In 2009, none of these things, happen in ATHF 2.
    Except the flaming chicken.

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