Feeds

Dim stars shed light on age of galaxy

Beryllium count gives the game away

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

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

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
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.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.