Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Australians Discover the Oldest Star

By David Reneke

Astronomers have discovered the oldest known star in the universe, and ice and water vapour have been detected on Ceres.

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In an Australian first, a team led by astronomers at the Australian National University has discovered the oldest known star in the universe, which formed shortly after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The discovery has allowed astronomers for the first time to study the chemistry of the first stars, giving scientists a clearer idea of what the universe was like in its infancy.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to unambiguously say that we’ve found the chemical fingerprint of a first star,” said Dr Stefan Keller of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. “It’s one of the first steps in understanding what those first stars were like. What this star has enabled us to do is record the fingerprint of those first stars.”

The star was discovered using the ANU SkyMapper telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory in NSW. It’s a dedicated 5-year research program searching for the earliest stars in an effort to produce the first digital map of the southern sky.

The ancient star is around 6000 light years from Earth and is one of the 60 million stars photographed by SkyMapper in its first year of operation.

“The stars we are finding number one in a million,” says team member Professor Mike Bessell, who also worked on the research. “Finding such needles in a haystack is possible thanks to the ANU SkyMapper telescope that is...

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