A Star Older Than The Universe Itself?
A team of NASA astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have made progress in finding the exact age of a star that seems to have been around for a long time. Current data suggests that the ‘Methuselah Star’ (HD 140283) is around 14.5 billion years old, give or take 0.8 billion years. Now, looking at the calculated age of the universe (13.8 billion years), this presents a pretty big dilemma. Earlier estimates had even placed the age of this star at around 16 billion years which caused cosmologists everywhere to questions their ways. Was the cosmology wrong? Maybe the calculated distance is wrong?
To answer this a team of astronomers from NASA set out to re-calculate the distance and come up with a more accurate estimate. These new age estimates now overlap with the calculated age of the universe. According to NASA the estimates were determined by independently measuring the expansion of space, analysing the microwave background from the big bang and also measuring radioactive decay.
The ‘Methuselah Star’ has been drawing the attention of astronomers for over a century. This is due to the fast pace at which the star moves across the sky. According to astronomers this fast motion is evidence that the star is simply passing through our galaxy as it will eventually ‘slingshot’ back into the ancient halo of stars surrounding the Milky Way. This was confirmed by astronomers in the 1950’s who were able to measure a lack of heavy elements in the star compared to our Sun and other stars in our galactic neighbourhood. For example, It has been measured that the Methuselah star has 1/250th of the heavy metal content our Sun has. The Methuselah star is visible through the use of binoculars and is in the first stages of becoming a red giant.
Howard Bond of Pennsylvania State University believes that if further oxygen measurements were carried out on the star, they could reduce the age of it even further. This would show that the star was formed at a later time when oxygen was more abundant in the universe. If the upper age limit was successfully lowered, it would make the star younger than the universe. Astronomers believe that the Methuselah star was born in a primeval dwarf galaxy that was eventually gravitationally shredded by our own Milky Way Galaxy. Thankfully it seems that cosmologists won’t be losing their heads any time soon as Bond is confident the star can be placed sometime after the beginning of the universe. Further research is most likely planned and will be carried out in the future.