A recent finding published in the journal Nature by researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics have come across a group of stars that formed within our Milky Way when the universe was just 300 million years old.
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Located at the edge of the Milky Way, the group of stars was discovered to have material that formed when an earlier star disintegrated in a blaze of explosion known as hypernova.
"These pristine stars are among the oldest surviving stars in the Universe, and certainly the oldest stars we have ever seen," said Louise Howes from The Australian National University (ANU), lead author of the study.
A PhD student at the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Ms Howes, added that "These stars formed before the Milky Way, and the galaxy formed around them."
Finding the stars and analyzing them revealed that situations in existence when the stars were formed billions of years ago is little understood by modern space scientists, and actually negates some of the theories they had put forward about the formation of the universe.
"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," said Ms 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."
Professor Martin Asplund, leader of the research team noted that coming upon such ancient stars out of the billions that inhabit the Milky Way is very rare and almost an impossible feat to repeat.
According to Professor Asplund, "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."
The team was able to locate the stars after happening upon one in 2014. Over 5 million stars were monitored with the ANU SkyMapper before the team zeroed down on the most ancient ones, which were then studied in more detail with the Anglo-Australian Telescope situated close to Coonabarabran in New South Wales and the Magellan telescope in Chile.
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This later analysis helped to dissect the chemical composition of the pristine stars. Meanwhile, the scientists were able to establish that the old stars are resident near the Milky Way and not just passing by, a sure sign that they are the oldest group of stars known in the universe.