MidAmerican Regional Astrophysics Conference, Day 1

MidAmerican Regional Astrophysics Conference, Day 1

I’m currently in Kansas City attending the MARAC at the Linda Hall Library enjoying talks on astronomy given by astronomers from all around the area. Last year I spoke in St Charles, MO at the exact same meeting, but last year I discussed IYA. This year I’ll be talking about both what’s it like to communicate astronomy in real time, and also about the Galaxy Zoo project. This is a really comfortable conference on many levels. Many of the talks are being given by young astronomers (graduate students) and the audience is a rich mix of amatuer astronomers, professional astronomers from all types of universities (from major research schools to community colleges), professional science communicators (like the great Martin Ratcliffe), and students of...

Read More

Things man will never do 1: Rebuild the Sun

There are certain themes that arise in Astronomy Cast comments and fanmail. Most of the themes are happy, good, warm fuzzies. There are also your typical cranks. There are also, in the humorous category, a regular stream of well-meaning, highly hopeful people saying my mind isn’t open enough who accuse me of not talking to the right experts. I actually laughed loudly enough to scare the dog when I read the following earlier today from here: Please! Get your facts straight, people! Your original assumption is faulty, the Sun does not need to heat up and expand in a billion years, it will not “run out of fuel” in a billion years. The reason the Sun is predicted to heat up and expand in a billion years, is not lack of fuel, but the interference of...

Read More

Dating Stars: HE 1523-0901

Dating Stars: HE 1523-0901

phot-23b-07-preview.jpgWhen trying to date a star, many websites state the problem is often best to approached with sweet words, lots of bling, and paparazzi repellent. A stint in the right rehab facility might increase your odds of success, and playing sports professionally has also worked for many individuals. To my mind, however, if you want to date a star, you need a good spectrograph, a multi-meter telescope, and a few clear dark nights. Any star worth dating can be had with this technique if the skies are right.

Seriously though, trying to determine the formation date of a stellar object is tricky business, and the best direct method we have involves studying the ratios of different nuclear isotopes in stellar atmospheres. Called nucleo-chronometry, this process first asks “In what ratio where all the elements in this star formed?”, and then looks to see in what ratios those elements are actually observed. In a perfect universe, there will be a baseline distribution of stable elements that appear in textbook perfect ratios side by side with unstable elements with long but varied half-lifes. It is this combination of different decay rates that allow the star’s age to be determined. For instance, if a star was expected to form with some amount A of element Fo* and some amount B of element Fi* (where Fo has a half life of 1 billion years, and Fi has a half life of 3 billion years), than after 3 billion years, we’d expect to see only only 1/2^3 A= 1/8 A of element Fo and 1/2 B of element Fi. Only one element is required to get a rough estimate of how old a star is – in fact carbon dating uses just the element Carbon-14 to measure the age of old organic materials – but more reliable results come from looking at more then one element.

This technique was recently used to identify a population III (extremely old, extremely metal poor) star in our galaxy as having an age of roughly 13.2 billion years. This star, named HE 1523-0901, is perhaps the oldest known star in our galaxy. At first glance, this is just another story of someone going, “Oh neat, an extreme,” but the reality is, determining the age of a star is a real bear, and, in many cases, it just isn’t possible. This piece of research, lead by A. Frebel of my graduate alma mata the University of Texas, and including T. Beers, my undergraduate advisor at M.S.U., required a lot of hard work, and 7.5 hours on the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Read More
Now live! Expect the Unexpected.
Currently offline.