How Can a Star Be Older Than the Universe?

HD 140283 or the Methuselah star image Hubble telescope
This is a Digitized Sky Survey image of the oldest star with a well-determined age in our galaxy. The aging star, cataloged as HD 140283, lies 190.1 light-years away. The Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO) UK Schmidt telescope photographed the star in blue light. Credit: Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech, and UKSTU/AAO

Since humans tend to live about a hundred years at most. It’s our most comfortable timescale but there are things far older than humans, older than the earth and maybe even older than the universe itself. We’re talking about a star that seems to break the laws of time and space.

Modern humans are about two hundred thousand years old, the earth is roughly four-and-a-half billion years old and the universe itself is a staggering 13.8 billion years old. Give or take about 20 million years then there’s HD 140283 or the Methuselah star. Somehow, when it was first studied by astronomer Howard Bond of Pennsylvania state university it appeared to be 16 billion years old.

How could even this possible? nothing could exist before the universe itself.

They are shocked as everyone in the scientific society. However, they does not lose hope. In the next 7 years from 2003 to 2011, they recorded 11 sets of observations using one of the finest guidance sensors of the Hubble Space Telescope. Those sensors are capable of taking note of the distances, positions and even the energy output of the stars. Hubble was able to more accurately determine how far away it is which in turn helped astronomers figure out the Star’s intrinsic brightness a huge help in determining any stars age.

With the newly gathered measurements, Howard Bond and his team are able to accurately estimate the age of the star to be 14.46 billion years with a margin of error of plus or minus 800 million years. Even though it’s significantly less than 16 billion as previously claimed. But still, it’s more than the age of the universe itself.

So, it is possible that Methuselah doesn’t break the laws of time and space. Only if we bring down its age with the margin of error. There is also a chance that the star is older than 14.5 billion years. We’ve somehow gotten the age of the universe completely wrong.

How much we know about HD 140283 (or the Methuselah star) so far?

Libra-Constellation-location-of-HD-140283-methuselah-star
Libra stars and the location of HD 140283. Image: NASA, ESA, H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University), E. Nelan (STScI), D. VandenBerg (University of Victoria), G. Schaefer (CHARA, Mt. Wilson Observatory), and D. Harmer (NOAO)

Methuselah is a strange star we’ve known. It stands out among all of its stellar counterparts. It travels really fast at over 1.3 million km/h. With that much speed, it can cover the width of the full moon in the sky every 1,500 years.

Hubble was also able to discover two interesting facts about HD 140283. First, it resides pretty far about 190.1 light-years away. And second Methuselah has a high oxygen to iron ratio.

Methuselah is currently turning into a red giant. It has a long elliptical orbit that will eventually take it far outside and back out to the very rim of the Milky Way.

The universe has once again found a way to keep us humble and remind us that no matter how smart we think we are there will always be something we don’t understand.

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Written by Amazing Fact

The world is full of amazing and mindblowing facts. I love to know and share incredible facts with the world.

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