Advertisement

Astronomers find new evidence of massive ancient stars

In a cataclysmic explosion, the star destroys itself in an event called a pair-stability supernova. This titanic explosion jettisons the star's entire contents. Illustration courtesy of NoirLab
1 of 3 | In a cataclysmic explosion, the star destroys itself in an event called a pair-stability supernova. This titanic explosion jettisons the star's entire contents. Illustration courtesy of NoirLab

Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Astronomers have discovered what could be chemical evidence of the earliest stars in the universe with help from the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii.

Scientists have long speculated that the earliest stars to form after the Big Bang were massive, and would have left behind traces of heavy elements after collapsing in a supernova at the end of their lifecycles.

Advertisement

Using the Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph, astronomers were able to study the wavelengths of light emitted through clouds surrounding a distant quasar, which had been previously observed by the Gemini North Telescope.

By analyzing the various wavelengths, they were able to deduce that the clouds contained much higher ratios of iron to magnesium than would be expected from a sun-like star.

Yuzuru Yoshii and Hiroaki Sameshima of the University of Tokyo published their findings Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal.

They theorized that the best explanation for the chemical composition of the clouds is that they are the remains of massive ancient stars. These early stars may have ejected their composite elements into space during what is known as a pair-instability supernova, a phenomenon that occurs when photons inside the star suddenly become electrons and positrons, the anti-matter equivalent of an electron.

Advertisement

The explosion produced by a pair-instability supernova does not result in a black hole or neutron star as supernovas are commonly known to do, instead they would leave gigantic clouds composed of the remnants of the stars themselves.

According to the new study, this is what the Gemini North Telescope observed in distant space.

Latest Headlines