Oldest Stars Discovered Next To Milky Way Center

First Posted: Nov 11, 2015 04:42 PM EST

Astronomers discovered some of the oldest known stars near the Milky Way's center, using the Australian National University (ANU) SkyMapper telescope. These stars existed before the Milk Way was formed and the universe was just 300-million-years-old at the time, according to a study.

"These pristine stars are among the oldest surviving stars in the Universe, and certainly the oldest stars we have ever seen," Louise Howes, lead author of the study, said in a news release. "These stars formed before the Milky Way and the galaxy formed around them."

The findings of this study reveals new information about the physical conditions of the early universe, where some of the oldest stars were formed. The newly found stars contained material from an earlier star that died in an explosion called a hypernova.

"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," Howes said. "Perhaps they ended their lives as hypernovae - poorly understood explosions of probably rapidly rotating stars producing 10 times as much energy as normal supernovae."

These types of stars are quite rare and are almost impossible to find in the Milky Way center, since there are billions of stars. It is like finding a needle in a haystack, according to Professor Martin Asplund, project leader at ANU's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"The ANU SkyMapper telescope has a unique ability to detect the distinct colours of anaemic stars, stars with little iron, which has been vital for this search," Asplund said.

This study was published in the journal Nature.

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