Astronomers have found the oldest stars ever seen

Artist’s impression of a gamma-ray burst and supernova. Image: ANU

Astronomers have discovered the oldest stars ever seen, dating from before the Milky Way Galaxy formed when the Universe was only 300 million years old.

“These pristine stars are among the oldest surviving stars in the Universe, and certainly the oldest stars we have ever seen,” says Louise Howes from the Australian National University and lead author of the study published in the latest issue of Nature.

The discovery of the nine stars challenges current theories about the environment of the early Universe. Howes explains the find in this video clip:

“The stars have surprisingly low levels of carbon, iron and other heavy elements, which suggests the first stars might not have exploded as normal supernovae,” says Howes.

“Perhaps they ended their lives as hypernovae – poorly understood explosions of probably rapidly rotating stars producing 10 times as much energy as normal supernovae.”

The team sifted through about five million stars with the ANU SkyMapper telescope to select the most pure and, therefore, oldest specimens, which were then studied in more detail using the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran in New South Wales and the Magellan telescope in Chile.

The team also demonstrated that the stars spend their entire lives near the Milky Way centre and are not just passing through.

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