Twinkle, twinkle giant star, astronomers see how far you are

Mar 30, 2022, 8:05 AM | Updated: 6:15 pm

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Astronomers have discovered the farthest star yet, a super-hot, super-bright giant that formed nearly 13 billion years ago at the dawn of the cosmos.

But this luminous blue star is long gone, so massive that it almost certainly exploded into bits just a few million years after emerging. Its swift demise makes it all the more incredible that an international team spotted it with observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. It takes eons for light emitted from distant stars to reach us.

“We’re seeing the star as it was about 12.8 billion years ago, which puts it about 900 million years after the Big Bang,” said astronomer Brian Welch, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the study appearing in Wednesday’s journal Nature.

“We definitely just got lucky.”

He nicknamed it Earendel, an Old English name which means morning star or rising light — “a fitting name for a star that we have observed in a time often referred to as `Cosmic Dawn.´ ”

The previous record-holder, Icarus, also a blue supergiant star spotted by Hubble, formed 9.4 billion years ago. That’s more than 4 billion years after the Big Bang.

In both instances, astronomers used a technique known as gravitational lensing to magnify the minuscule starlight. Gravity from clusters of galaxies closer to us — in the foreground — serve as a lens to magnify smaller objects in the background. If not for that, Icarus and Earendel would not have been discernible given their vast distances.

While Hubble has spied galaxies as far away as 300 million to 400 million years of the universe-forming Big Bang, their individual stars are impossible to pick out.

“Usually they’re all smooshed together … But here, nature has given us this one star — highly, highly magnified, magnified by factors of thousands — so that we can study it,” said NASA astrophysicist Jane Rigby, who took part in the study. “It’s such a gift really from the universe.”

Vinicius Placco of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRlab in Tucson, Arizona, described the findings as “amazing work.” He was not involved in the study.

Placco said based on the Hubble data, Earendel may well have been among the first generation of stars born after the Big Bang. Future observations by the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope should provide more details, he said, and “provide us with another piece of this cosmic puzzle that is the evolution of our universe.”

Current data indicate Earendel was more than 50 times the size of our sun and an estimated 1 million times brighter, outsizing Icarus. Earendel’s small, yet-to-mature home galaxy looked nothing like the pretty spiral galaxies photographed elsewhere by Hubble, according to Welch, but rather “kind of an awkward-looking, clumpy object.” Unlike Earendel, he said, this galaxy probably has survived, although in a different form after merging with other galaxies.

“It’s like a little snapshot in amber of the past,” Rigby said.

Earendel may have been the prominent star in a two-star, or binary, system, or even a triple- or quadruple-star system, Welch said. There’s a slight chance it could be a black hole, although the observations gathered in 2016 and 2019 suggest otherwise, he noted.

Regardless of its company, the star lasted barely a few million years before exploding as a supernova that went unobserved as most do, Welch said. The most distant supernova seen by astronomers to date goes back 12 billion years.

The Webb telescope — 100 times more powerful than Hubble — should help clarify how massive and hot the star really is, and reveal more about its parent galaxy.

By studying stars, Rigby said: “We are literally understanding where we came from because we’re made up of some of that stardust.”

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Kimberly Palmer: How to handle your medical bills

When she was 19, writer Emily Maloney found herself facing about $50,000 in medical debt after hospital treatment for a mental health crisis. The debt followed her throughout her twenties, hurting her credit and leading to stressful calls from collection agencies. Her experience is all too common: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that about […]
4 hours ago
Associated Press

Jerzy Urban, spokesman for Polish communist govt, dies at 89

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Jerzy Urban, a spokesman for Poland’s communist-era government in the 1980s who masterminded state propaganda and censorship for a regime in the final years before its collapse, has died. He was 89. His death was announced on Monday by a satirical weekly magazine, Nie (No), which he founded and led in […]
4 hours ago
A shadow is cast on the stage of the Trafo House of Contemporary Arts while technicians set up the ...
Associated Press

Music stops: Energy costs close Hungary theaters for winter

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A theater in Hungary’s capital will sit through a cold and quiet winter after its managers chose to shut it down rather than pay skyrocketing utility prices that are putting a squeeze on businesses and cultural institutions across Europe. The 111-year-old Erkel Theatre in Budapest, one of three performance spaces of […]
4 hours ago
In this photo provided by the Armed Forces of Denmark, a view the disturbance in the water above th...
Associated Press

Sweden sends special diving vessel to area of pipeline leaks

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden has sent a vessel capable of “advanced diving missions” to the Baltic Sea area where ruptured undersea pipelines leaked natural gas for days, the Swedish navy said Monday. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging Russia-built natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea to Germany, a […]
4 hours ago
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supre...
Associated Press

Iran’s supreme leader breaks silence on protests, blames US

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded publicly on Monday to the biggest protests in Iran in years, breaking weeks of silence to condemn what he called “rioting” and accuse the U.S. and Israel of planning the protests. Khamenei said he was “heartbroken” by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa […]
4 hours ago
Columbus Blue Jackets' Johnny Gaudreau, right, looks for an open pass against the Pittsburgh Pengui...
Associated Press

Gaudreau to Columbus tops busy summer of NHL player movement

Johnny Hockey moved East, though not as far as everyone thought. The champs out West couldn’t keep the entire band together. And two teams with lengthy playoff droughts made some moves hoping to change that. Johnny Gaudreau joining Columbus headlined a busy offseason of player movement around the NHL. Darcy Kuemper left Colorado for Washington […]
4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Twinkle, twinkle giant star, astronomers see how far you are