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For more than 100 years, astronomers have been observing a curious star located some 190 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra. It rapidly journeys across the sky at 800,000 mph (1.3 million kilometers per hour). But more interesting than that, HD 140283 — or Methuselah as it's commonly known — is also one of the universe's oldest known stars.
In 2000, scientists sought to date the star using observations via the European Space Agency's (ESA) Hipparcos satellite, which estimated an age of 16 billion years old. Such a figure was rather mind-blowing and also pretty baffling. As astronomer Howard Bond of Pennsylvania State University pointed out, the age of the universe — determined from observations of the cosmic microwave background — is 13.8 billion years old. "It was a serious discrepancy," he said.
Face - Value - Star - Age - Problem
Taken at face value, the star's predicted age raised a major problem. How could a star be older than the universe? Or, conversely, how could the universe be younger? It was certainly clear that Methuselah — named in reference to a biblical patriarch who is said to have died aged 969, making him the longest lived of all the figures in the Bible — was old, since the metal-poor subgiant is predominantly made of hydrogen and helium and contains very little iron. It's composition meant the star must have come into being before iron became commonplace.
But more than two billion years older than its environment? Surely that is just not possible.
Bond - Colleagues - Task - Figure - Accurate
Bond and his colleagues set themselves to the task of figuring out whether or not that initial figure of 16 billion was accurate. They pored over 11 sets of observations that had been recorded between 2003 and 2011 by the Fine Guidance Sensors of the Hubble Space Telescope, which make a note of the positions,...
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