What is the oldest star in the universe? What about the youngest?

The oldest known star, officially called HD 140283 but nicknamed Methuselah, lies 190.1 light-years away. Britain’s Schmidt Telescope (AAO) Anglo-Australian Observatory imaged the star in blue light for a digital sky survey. (Image credit: Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech, UKSTU/AAO)

Among the myriad stars that sparkle in the vastness of space, some are so old that they have witnessed the dawning of the universe, and others are so small that even the most powerful telescopes on Earth have been unable to observe them. But is it possible to tell which star is the youngest and which is the oldest?

It is difficult to determine the smallest star in our universe because stars are constantly being born, but there are a few candidates among the stars that we know of. In contrast, scientists have known about the oldest recorded star – appropriately nicknamed Methuselah – for decades.

Stars are born deep in vast clouds of dust and gas known as nebulae. according to NASA (Opens in a new tab), some masses of gas in the nebula are overburdened with so much material that their own gravity forces them to collapse (because more mass means more gravity), and the intense gravitational pull at the center of the collapsing cloud causes gas – mostly hydrogen – to join what becomes a protostar. These stellar embryos begin fusing hydrogen nuclei into helium and emit radiation in the process. A star cannot be called a star until it radiates energy, which is what makes it so bright. Some dull stars sparkle in life.

New stars are forming all the time, but in 2022 astronomer Rubing Dong and his colleagues captured images of young stellar embryos in the constellation of the binary star system Z Canis Majoris. Turbulence caused by a cosmic intruder was captured by the Subaru Telescope, Karl Jansky Very Large Array, and Atacama Large Millimeter/ Millimeter Array. (Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF), NAOJ)

astronomer robing dong (Opens in a new tab), an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Victoria University in Canada, observed these fledgling stars. He led a 2022 study in Nature Astronomy (Opens in a new tab) On a binary star system believed to be only about a million years old. Dong and colleagues were able to establish an approximate age for some of these stellar embryos. They often throw tantrums, known as accumulation fits.

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