This Star Is Older Than The Universe


“Hubble Finds Birth Certificate of Oldest Known Star” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

By: Abhi Palikala, Journalist

The sun is an ordinary star–average size, average temperature, average place. By comparison, HD 140283, dubbed as the “Methuselah Star”, is none of these. Research indicates that the Methuselah Star is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, with very little iron, classifying it as a Population II star. At only 190 light years away, it is one of the nearest such stars–and approaching us at 800,000 miles-an-hour. However, parallax analysis of the star reveals that the star is 14.4±0.8 billion years old–older than the universe, which is only 13.8 billion years.

This age determination is obviously a problem–the first stars only formed 100’s of million’s of years after the big bang, while this star formed 600 million years before it. As put it, there was a  “residual uncertainty of 800 million years”, meaning the star could be anywhere from 13.6-15.2 billion years old. When scientists took an estimate for the error, there seems to be a 25% chance that it is less than the age of the universe.

What does this say about current model of the Universe, the Big Bang? Scientists say this is a remarkable proof of the theory, not a counterexample. The age of the first star(s) ends up almost exactly as where they would be predicted by the Big Bang theory–which has been verified by multiple methods of analysis.

And what if this star is older than the Universe? Well, scientists really haven’t considered that possibility yet–though it still remains one. For now, the discrepancy between the ages can be accounted for through observational error and the inconsideration of other stellar phenomena–which astronomers and scientists have dedicated their time to finding. No matter the results, this star has and will further our knowledge and study of the Universe.

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