back to article Astroboffins spot one of the oldest, coolest stars in the universe lurking in the Milky Way

Astronomers claim to have found the oldest star yet discovered – a 13.5-billion-year-old sun hovering on the edges of our Milky Way, according to a new study. The star may sound unremarkable, 2MASS J18082002-5104378 B, but its contents are pretty special. It’s classified as an ultra metal-poor star (UMP) and is “the most metal …

  1. Rich 11 Silver badge

    up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

    Please, please, please, in the name of all that's unholy, how do you get a 5sf conversion result from an approximated 1sf input and believe it's good?

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

      If you say it's 700 degC then someone will complain that it's more like 730 degC, etc.

      1. Paul Kinsler

        Re: someone will complain t

        I imagine that writing "about 727 degrees Celsius" would have sufficed, which, whilst still implying unjustified precision, is at least without the two decimal places of 726.85 that make that form particularly jarring.

        However, given it's an estimated upper bound, any of 720, 725, or 730 would probably have been better.

        1. Jtom Bronze badge

          Re: someone will complain t

          More accurate to say ,”greater than 700 degrees Celsius”, acknowledging the clear SWAG of 1000 degrees k.

    2. Mongo

      Henceforth all my results shall have 5.0000sf

      And I'll continue to use 10.000sf for π, so I can specify my bicycle wheel to the nearest molecular diameter.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Henceforth all my results shall have 5.0000sf

        Your wheel is made of metal, probably, so molecules really don't mean much. Atomic diameter is a few hundred pm, which means that is complete overkill. 10sf for pi is ample. 3.1415926535 (with one over) is even fairly easy to remember.

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Henceforth all my results shall have 5.0000sf

        5.0000sf

        I think you might be confusing discrete and continuous number spaces.

        1. tfb Silver badge

          Re: Henceforth all my results shall have 5.0000sf

          I think that the number of significant figures can (surprisingly) be continuous. You know both how many digits you know, and the uncertainty in the first digit you don't know, which is a continuois quantity. Another way pf seeing this is to consider what you're actually trying to represent which is an interval on the real line.

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Henceforth all my results shall have 5.0000sf

            I see what you're getting at but even if it were a valid idea (and I suppose convention could make it so) the decimal wouldn't work like that. A value of 5.0 (or 5.0000) says that you've got zero uncertainty in the sixth digit, while 5.9999 says that you've got 99.99% uncertainty in the sixth digit yet a tiny step more gives you certainty. For that to be sensible you'd have to be describing the certainty rather than the uncertainty, and then you'd still have to have a way to calculate it. You can do that realistically for a well-known constant such as pi but much less so for any measured initial quantity. Wouldn't it just be better to stick to error bars, which don't have to be symmetrical either?

    3. Symon Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

      My beef is with the phrase "up to". If only the Advertising Standards Authority would ban these two words in any commercial, we'd be up to a million times better off.

      1. aje21
        Facepalm

        Re: up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

        Never mind "up to", it is the "up to or more" which is really annoying...

        1. Hero Protagonist

          Re: up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

          > Never mind "up to", it is the "up to or more" which is really annoying.

          I seem to remember the phrase “up to at least” appearing in in these very pages within the last couple weeks.

          1. Jtom Bronze badge

            Re: up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

            I think the phrase the are desperately seeking is, “likely exceeding...”.

    4. swm

      Re: up to 1,000 kelvin (726.85 degrees Celsius).

      As I understand it the normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees came from converting 37 degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit. The original 37 degrees was an average body temperature of several individuals rounded to the nearest degree Celsius so had ~ 2 significant digits. The 98.6 is bogus accuracy and, in fact, is a little high.

  2. Anon
    Boffin

    Hydrogen is a *good* coolant

    Hydrogen is used in cooling, for example, generators in power stations because its low density, high specific heat, and high thermal conductivity make it a good coolant.

    So the "Hydrogen is a poor coolant, so early gas clouds were very hot..." paragraph might need re-working.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Hydrogen is a *good* coolant

      "Unlike metal-enriched gas that efficiently cools via dust and metal-line emission, metal-free gas can only cool significantly via atomic (H), molecular (H2), and deuterated (HD) hydrogen emission. Hydrogen can only cool gas down to temperatures T < 10^4K, and H2 is a poor coolant at T < 200 K. While HD can cool gas below T ≈ 200 K, the small cosmological ratio of deuterium to hydrogen limits its contribution to cooling. "

      In space, a gas cloud cools by radiation. There's almost no gravity, so there's no convection, and there's no conduction as there's nothing to conduct to. Hydrogen might be a good coolant in some circumstances, but not in this one.

    2. cray74 Silver badge

      Re: Hydrogen is a *good* coolant

      because its low density, high specific heat, and high thermal conductivity make it a good coolant.

      I was going to say the same thing. I wonder what makes hydrogen a poor coolant in space.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I wonder what makes hydrogen a poor coolant in space.

        Ooh! I know this!

        It has an unfortunate tendency to clump together under gravity and start a self-sustaining fusion reaction. :-D

    3. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Hydrogen is a *good* coolant

      It makes a difference if those intergalactic gas clouds consist of atomic or molecular hydrogen. I suspect the former to make a poor coolant - lacking vibration and rotation.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstellar_cloud

  3. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    "could we visit it?"

    Very unlikely. The distance to the star is ~ 1950ly, so assuming that no space warp becomes accessible to us, the travel would probably take too long.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "could we visit it?"

      Let's first get to alpha Centauri, to see what's in store for us at the local planning office, shall we

      I'll get me coat

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: "could we visit it?"

      "assuming that no space warp becomes accessible to us...."

      In that case we'll just have to take a jump to the left.

      1. Graham Dawson

        Re: "could we visit it?"

        I thought it was a step to the right.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "could we visit it?"

          That's for a timewarp, not a spacewarp :-)

    3. ocratato

      Re: "could we visit it?"

      It would not be a very interesting place to visit. If it has any planets they would be just balls of hydrogen.

      This is unfortunate as it would be a great place to set up home once I become immortal.

      1. Toni the terrible
        Alien

        Re: "could we visit it?"

        Well just move a planet into place or a ring-world - and bobs yer uncle

  4. Nano nano

    Wandering star ?

    So: Mercury might be an errant old-star core ....!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Wandering star ?

      Isn't everything but helium, hydrogen, and lithium ultimately made by a star (perhaps layers blown off instead of core though)? "We're made of star stuff." as Sagan famously said. I think the models assume Mercury was made out of the same gas cloud the rest of the solar system was though.

  5. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I thought stars cooked metals themselves, at least as far down Mr Medeleev's bedsheet as iron.

    Clearly "metal poor" is not a helpful terminology, unless fusion isn't working in the new killer star.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Astronomers have the slightly weird habit of calling all elements beyond helium in the periodic table "metals". Statistically, they are right most of the time, but it confuses those with any education in chemistry. A low mass, ultra metal poor star like this will only cook up helium from hydrogen during its extremely long main-sequence lifetime, i.e. no metals even by astronomical standards. When its main-sequence life ends, it may start creating carbon, but I doubt it will produce any real metals

      1. Wapiya
        Coat

        Re: Bah!

        It is not weird and even chemistry counts Lithium (Li), Potassium (K), Sodium (Na) to the alkali metals. So the next element above H and He is a metal und should be there in abundance if this were a second or later generation star.

    2. Keith Langmead

      Re: Bah!

      "I thought stars cooked metals themselves, at least as far down Mr Medeleev's bedsheet as iron."

      The original stars only had Hydrogen and helium to burn and then over time via fusion create some of the other elements. My understanding is that only the smaller elements form that way, and it's not until the star dies and explodes that you get the higher numbered elements (including metals above Iron). So now you have a gas cloud containing a much wider variety of elements, so stars that form from that new cloud will contain those, and have more metal within them from day one.

      So for instance since gold is only created within a supernova, if you detect it within a star then it must have formed from a cloud created by a previous generation of stars, while if it has none of them (eg metal poor) then it's much older and possibly from an earlier point.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        Your understanding is incomplete. Metals are created by the fusion process in a star, as far down the periodic table as iron. You don't have to start with them in the mix.

        Citation: http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/ast122/lectures/lec18.html

        When the star makes iron, that's the end of the line, because Iron takes more energy to turn into other elements than it throws out in the process. That's when the star starts wending its way toward a possible supernova event, but starts dying whether or not it will experience a giant space kablooey.

        1. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          But isn't there a limit to what elements a star can fuse based on its mass (and therefore pressure in center of star)? Yep looks like most Red Dwarfs can't fuse helium so forget heavier elements like carbon and oxygen.

          >Helium fusion can occur in stars with more than about 0.4 solar masses (420 Jupiter masses). Less than that and our ball of helium would never get hot enough to fuse.

          >The new star is only about 14 per cent the mass of the Sun

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      I thought stars cooked metals themselves, at least as far down Mr Medeleev's bedsheet as iron.

      They do, however stellar nucleosynthesis depends very heavily on the mass of the star. This one is too light to do much more than slowly burn hydrogen to helium, so its metallicity today is probably very similar to its metallicity when it formed.

  6. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Earth is the only place known to have heavy metal.

    Generals gather in their masses...

    1. Wapiya
      Happy

      Earth is the only planet with chocolate or coffee. So save the earth.

      1. Robin

        "Earth is the only planet with chocolate or coffee"

        ...that we're aware of.

        1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

          On the other hand. Everywhere has spoo (or something like it)

          1. Glen 1 Bronze badge
  7. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
    Alien

    Excession!

    Cyclic migration time again?

  8. FozzyBear Silver badge
    Alien

    Just when you think you have a fairly solid theory on the evolution of star formation from the early universe to now. Along comes a little gem like this that causes a "what the..." moment.

    Awesome . Keep 'em coming !

    1. sitta_europea

      [quote]

      Just when you think you have a fairly solid theory on the evolution of star formation from the early universe to now. Along comes a little gem like this that causes a "what the..." moment.

      [/quote]

      Finally, an intelligent comment.

      Thank you.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”

        — Isaac Asimov (probably not)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "last trillions of years"

    Almost as long as this Trump presidency seems to be taking....

  10. Gustavo Fring

    is this where

    Ossified Osbourne and slip knot death razer black Sabbath will go to when they die ?

    Yes lets re-settle here with an artificial planet a/p we may have some chance of hearing the final Brexit deal and even the israeli/Palestine Solution..

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