Student and professor solve astronomical mystery

Apr 08, 2013 by Mike Mcdade

(Phys.org) —To ordinary folks, stars in the galaxy may seem like tiny specks of light. But to Penn State Brandywine Professor Timothy Lawlor and undergraduate researcher Nick Rufo, one of those bright balls of gas is actually more massive than scientists originally reported and holds implications for understanding the evolution of the universe.

Research conducted by Rufo and Lawlor about the irregular characteristics of what is known as "Caffau's Star" suggests that it could actually be considered part of the subgiant category rather than a main sequence star. Translation: Caffau's Star could actually be much more immense than initially described. This finding plays an important role in strengthening the understanding of and helps researchers comprehend the evolution of the 13.8 billion-year-old universe.

"The puzzle of stellar evolution is really about the origin of every one of us," explained Lawlor, who is associate professor of physics. "One of the most fascinating things about and the evolution of the universe is how it becomes clear that a huge majority of all atoms that make up you, me and the entire planet can be traced back to the center of a very massive star that blew up long ago."

Rufo, who spent his first two years at the Brandywine campus and is now a meteorology major in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at University Park, worked closely with Lawlor to analyze data about Caffau's Star. He was able to complete calculations using a and produced all of the models that were compared to Caffau's Star in the research process.

"Nicholas was a dedicated researcher," Lawlor said. "He helped uncover that the mass did not fit that of a main sequence star, and that for the observed composition of to match, the star would have to be significantly less massive, which was not likely based on the temperature. Working with Nicholas was one of the most productive collaborations I have had with an undergraduate researcher."

While at the campus, Rufo participated in Penn State Brandywine's spring undergraduate research exhibition called EURECA, where he presented the beginning discoveries of the studies he conducted alongside Lawlor.

"I feel honored to have worked with a great professor like Dr. Lawlor," Rufo said. "I never imagined I would have an opportunity working with Dr. Lawlor on a paper and doing research on a fascinating subject like astronomy when I was a student at Brandywine. I really enjoyed the experience and feel it gave me confidence and motivation."

Explore further: Hubble view: Wolf-Rayet stars, intense and short-lived

Related Stories

By measuring lithium, researchers study star structure

Oct 25, 2012

During its nuclear fusion processes, a burning star does not make the element lithium. Rather, over time, stars consume their lithium supply that was originally created during the Big Bang that gave birth to our universe.

Understanding stellar birth using old star clusters

Jun 01, 2011

It is now known that most, if not all, of the stars in our Galaxy were born in star clusters. These spherical groupings contain anywhere from a few tens to several million members all milling about under the influence of ...

The star that should not exist

Aug 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of European astronomers has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to track down a star in the Milky Way that many thought was impossible. They discovered that this star is composed ...

Scientists discover ageing star destroys planet

Sep 21, 2012

(Phys.org)—An international team of astronomers has found evidence that a planet was destroyed by its ageing star. Led by Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in the United States, the team showed ...

Hubble catches the moment the lights went out

Feb 06, 2013

(Phys.org)—The further away you look, the further back in time you see. Astronomers use this fact to study the evolution of the Universe by looking at nearby and more distant galaxies and comparing their ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers see pebbles poised to make planets

14 hours ago

A team of astronomers led from St Andrews and Manchester universities today (6 July) announced the discovery of a ring of rocks circling a very young star. This is the first time these 'pebbles', thought ...

Small cosmic 'fish' points to big haul for SKA Pathfinder

15 hours ago

A wisp of cosmic radio waves, emitted before our solar system was born, shows that a new radio telescope will be able to detect galaxies other telescopes can't. The work, led by Dr James Allison of the Commonwealth ...

Gaia produces stellar density map of the Milky Way

15 hours ago

This image, based on housekeeping data from ESA's Gaia satellite, is no ordinary depiction of the heavens. While the image portrays the outline of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, and of its neighbouring Magellanic ...

Hubble view: Wolf-Rayet stars, intense and short-lived

Jul 03, 2015

This NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope picture shows a galaxy named SBS 1415+437 (also called SDSS CGB 12067.1), located about 45 million light-years from Earth. SBS 1415+437 is a Wolf-Rayet ...

NASA image: Stellar sparklers that last

Jul 03, 2015

While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lurker2358
1 / 5 (4) Apr 08, 2013
One of the most fascinating things about stellar evolution and the evolution of the universe is how it becomes clear that a huge majority of all atoms that make up you, me and the entire planet can be traced back to the center of a very massive star that blew up long ago.


Conjecture.

Otherwise, the article has no content about the actual topic, and only has some quotes of astrophysicists patting one another on the back.
theon
1 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2013
If it is not too much of an effort, could the text please explain to your humble reader what was the result? A big star, a small star, a solution to the Li problem? Now the only thing that is clear, is that nothing is clear.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2013
From Wikipedia:
"SDSS J102915 172927 or Caffau's star is a population II star in the galactic halo, seen in the constellation Leo. It is about 13 billion years old, making it one of the oldest stars in the Galaxy.[1] At the time of its discovery, it had the lowest metallicity of any known star.[2] It is small (less than 0.8 solar masses),[3] deficient in carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and completely devoid of lithium."
http://en.wikiped...2B172927

So, what makes it unique is that it's very old, very low in "metals", and, according to some theories, shouldn't have been able to form in the first place. The idea is that, without heavier elements, the H/He cloud couldn't cool enough to collapse under its own gravity, given the low mass. If the mass is higher, that problem is solved, but higher mass stars don't live as long.
katesisco
1 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2013
Could this be a problem with the potential to be solved via electromagnetism? This site may reference this same star but since it is not identified (!) we do not know. http://www.dailyg...rse.html
There are in the GMC other can't-be heavy stars. So instead of adjusting current star formation theory should we instead consider a new theory?
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2013
Could this be a problem with the potential to be solved via electromagnetism?


No.

So instead of adjusting current star formation theory should we instead consider a new theory?


They aren't adjusting any theory, just making a more accurate measurement of the mass. That's the way it works. In this case the change makes the star less puzzling.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.