A team of researchers in Australia has announced their latest findings regarding the discovery of the oldest known star in the Universe. The team discovered the ancient star, which is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old, using a ground based satellite in Australia.
Scientists have long been trying to decipher the mysteries behind the earliest stars in the universe. The discovery made by the team from the Australian National University (ANU) will allow astronomers to gather important data about the composition of early stars. Moreover, analyzing the star will also provide more clues about the state of the universe in the early stages of development following the Big Bang.
Oddly enough, the researchers found the star, dubbed SMSS J031300.362670839.3, in a location 6,000 light years away from Earth. In terms of astronomy, 6,000 light years is a very small distance.
"This is the first time that we've been able to unambiguously say that we've found the chemical fingerprint of a first star," says Dr Stefan Keller, the team's lead researcher from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. "This is one of the first steps in understanding what those first stars were like. What this star has enabled us to do is record the fingerprint of those first stars."
The team was able to find the ancient star with the help of the Siding Spring Observatory based SkyMapper Telescope. Moreover, the discovery is the product of a mapping project that is expected to last 5 years in total. The project aims to construct the first ever digital map of the sky in the southern hemisphere.
During the first year of the SkyMapper project, astronomers were able to capture images of over 60 million stars. The oldest star in the universe was found amongst these stars, which means it was a considerable find taking the sheer number of stars photographed by the SkyMapper into consideration.
"The stars we are finding number one in a million," says Prof. Mike Bessell, one of the members in Keller's team. "Finding such needles in a haystack is possible thanks to the ANU SkyMapper telescope that is unique in its ability to find stars with low iron from their colour."
Astronomers initially believed that stars formed in the early days of the universe died out in large supernovas, which may have seeded large regions with iron. However, early stars are packed with lighter elements with no traces of heavier elements such as iron.
"This indicates the primordial star's supernova explosion was of surprisingly low energy. Although sufficient to disintegrate the primordial star, almost all of the heavy elements such as iron, were consumed by a black hole that formed at the heart of the explosion," says Keller.