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Cosmic Riddle: How Can This Star Be Older Than the Universe?
Astronomers have gotten good at dating stars. But this one has them stumped.
It’s drilled into us since elementary school... the Big Bang created everything. Or did it? There’s actually one celestial body, the Methuselah star (HD 140283) which has astronomers stumped. It’s thought to be 14.5 billion years old. But the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago.
Astronomers determine a star’s age by its physical properties. Temperature, luminosity, and radiance are all studied closely in order to properly date one. A star’s lifespan however depends on how much metal and mass it contains. Older stars will have low mass and low metallicity.
“Metal” here is considered the byproducts of a fusion reaction in the star’s core. Some of the earliest stars had no metals in them. But as stars die, their remains become part of new stars, and those adopt the metals created by their predecessors.
So is this star going to cause a paradigm shift in how we view the cosmos? Probably not. It’s unlikely that the universe is 14.5 billion years old. How do scientists know the universe’s age anyway?
Star HD 140283 could be older than the universe itself. ESA/Hubble.
One way to know is to measure the temperature and pressure of the cosmic microwave background. This is a layer of radiation inhabiting deep space thought to be the afterglow from the Big Bang. It’s the most distant light we’re able to detect. The Hubble Constant or the expansion rate of the universe also helps scientists date a star.
Another way is to study stars and star clusters. We know how stars are formed, how their fusion reactions start, their efficiency level, and how they die. It can be difficult however when a star is in midlife to define how old it actually is. Understanding its composition can help.
Astronomers can get a handle on a star’s age by measuring how much carbon, oxygen, and iron it contains. The spectrum of starlight contains dark lines called Fraunhofer lines. These are formed by different elements in the star interacting with its light. But studying these lines, astronomers can determine a star’s composition.
The lifecycle of a star. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Other methods include looking at star formation, star cluster formation, and the creation and development of galaxies. Most scientists say our calculations for the age of the universe, with all these considerations taken together is pretty solid, give or take 100 million years.
That’s why it was so shocking that previous research had Methuselah at up to 16 billion years old. A team recently reevaluated the star and updated its age, which they say is compatible with our current cosmological model. In this study, lead author Howard Bond and colleagues looked at the star’s brightness, distance, structure, and composition, to reevaluate the star's age. Bond is a professor in the Astronomy & Astrophysics department at the University of Pennsylvania.
Methuselah is a low metallicity subgiant on its way to becoming a red giant. This is when it’s exhausted its hydrogen core. It’ll expand for a time, then shrink to a white dwarf, or else end in supernova.
Bond and his team used the Hubble space telescope to get a better understanding of the distance of star HD 140283, in conjunction with the principle of parallax. This is the experience of things looking as if they cross at a distance, when in actuality they remain parallel. Think of when you look down train tracks. The tracks seem to meet at the vanishing point.
The Pleiades star cluster. ESA/Hubble.
Bond and colleagues thought they could get a more accurate measurement of distance by understanding the variance between the position of Earth’s orbit and Hubble’s. They were right. Methuselah is 190.1 light-years away, researchers found. It’s moving at a high rate of speed, 800,000 mph (1.3 million km/h) and has an unusually long orbit. These may be symptoms of its decline.
Getting a better grip on the star’s distance, they were able to calculate its brightness. From there, they could figure the star’s age. Bond said there’s a level of uncertainty, which could add or subtract 800 million years. A subtraction would make it just a tad younger than the universe itself. The team also tried to get a better understanding of the star’s burn rate, which could also help date it.
Bond and colleagues believe the star has a high ration of oxygen-to-iron. This might also make it younger than first predicted. Researchers are pretty sure further calculations will bring the star’s age down some more. The results of their study were published in the journal Solar and Stellar Astrophysics.
To learn more about this cosmological riddle, click here:
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.