Feeds

Dim stars shed light on age of galaxy

Beryllium count gives the game away

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

New hybrid storage solutions

A group of astronomers working on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have determined that the galaxy is 13.6bn years old.

Its calculation of the age of the Milky Way is based on observations of two very faint stars in a local globular cluster, the BBC reports. Globular clusters are very concentrated clusters of stars which orbit galaxies, and contain some of the oldest stars still burning.

By measuring the amount of beryllium in each of the stars, the astronomers could calculate their age, since the element forms at a constant rate as stars burn. The team made its observations ib the 8.2m Kuyen telescope that is part of the VLT, using the UV-Visual Echelle Spectrograph.

Incidentally, some scientists think globular clusters may actually be remnants of smaller "dwarf" galaxies, caught in the gravitational maw of their larger counterparts. The implications this theory may have for these calculations is unclear.

The team carefully selected the stars they would measure, known as A0228 and A2111 in the NGC 6397 globular cluster. Star selection is vital because beryllium will burn up if the star has become too hot, making it useless as a benchmark.

Smaller stars are best, but are difficult to observe because they are so faint. Many of the larger stars, which burn faster and hotter, have already reached the giant phase of their evolution.

It is well known that the stars in globular clusters were not the first stars that ever burned in our galaxy: they contain elements that need supernovae to form. However, this new research has allowed scientists to calculate the interval between the first (now extinct) generation of stars and the ones we can still observe today.

By adding this number to the age of the stars, as determined by stellar evolution models, the team determined that the galaxy is 13.6bn years old, give or take 800m years.

Daniele Galli of INAF-Observatorio di Arcetri in Florence, Italy, told the BBC: "This is the first time we have obtained an independent determination of this fundamental value." ®

Related stories

Hubble loses an eye
Boffins baffled by suburban quasars
NASA seeks Hubble robot rescue input

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Boffins: Behold the SILICON CHEAPNESS of our tiny, radio-signal-munching IoT sensor
Single ant-sized Stanford chip combines radio, 'puter, antenna
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Drones swarm over bearded Brit billionaire's island getaway
Just to take lovely pictures though, after Richard Branson invests in 3D Robotics
Chelyabinsk-sized SURPRISE asteroid to skim Earth, satnav birds
Space rock appears out of nowhere, buzzes planet on Sunday
California blue whale numbers soar to historical levels, say boffins
Still far too many of them being struck by US ships, mind
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.