Astronomers find ‘time machine’ star offering glimpse of dawn of universe

The eye of the Milky Way in lingshan, China, May 28, 2019.PHOTOGRAPH BY Costfoto / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Costfoto / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
The eye of the Milky Way in lingshan, China(Photo credit should read Costfoto / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Astronomers have found a ‘ghost’ of an incredibly ancient star - the remnants of a supernova at the dawn of the universe itself.

‘We've found a time machine that takes us back to the universe's earliest stars,’ said Dr Thomas Nordlander of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA).

The researchers found traces of an ancient supernova in the Milky Way star named SMSS J160540.18-144323.1.

Dr Nordlander said, ‘The pattern of elements we found in the star in our galaxy reveals traces of its ancestor. That long-dead star exploded as a supernova - a fairly feeble one at that too.

‘We think the supernova energy of the ancestral star was so low that most of the heavier elements fell back into a very dense remnant created by the explosion.

‘Only a tiny fraction of the elements heavier than carbon escaped into space and helped to form the very old star that we found.’


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Dr Nordlander said the star they found in our galaxy had the lowest iron level ever measured out of any stellar discovery, indicating it was born just one generation after the universe's first stars.

'This incredibly anaemic star, which likely formed just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, has iron levels 1.5 million times lower than that of the Sun,' he said.

'In this star, just one atom in every 50 billion is iron - that's like one drop of water in an Olympic swimming pool.'

The ANU-led team found the iron-deficient star using the ANU SkyMapper and 2.3-metre telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory in NSW.

Dr Nordlander discovered the star during his first-ever session working alone with a telescope.

Co-researcher Professor Martin Asplund, a chief investigator of ASTRO 3D at ANU, said it was unlikely that any true first stars have survived to the present day.

'The good news is that we can study the first stars through their children - the stars that came after them like the one we've discovered,' he said.

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