Astrophysicists model the formation of the oldest-known star in our galaxy

Jul 22, 2014
The illustration shows projections of the gas density, temperature and the fraction of ionized carbon in the central region where the star forms, in simulations with different abundances of the heavy elements, from 0.01 to 0.0001 times the solar value. The results show that a strong transition occurs for a carbon abundance of 0.01 times the solar value, providing a pathway for the formation of low-mass stars. Credit: Institute for Astrophysics Göttingen

A team of researchers led by Dr. Stefano Bovino at the Institute for Astrophysics Göttingen (IAG) has conducted high-resolution simulations investigating the formation of the oldest-known star in our galaxy, SMSS J031300.36-670839.3, on a supercomputer of the North-German Supercomputing Alliance. Using the star's abundance patterns, the scientists have performed cosmological simulations which include the dynamics of gas and dark matter as well as the chemical evolution. From this simulation, the scientists expect to obtain an improved understanding of the transition from the first to the second generation of stars in the universe. The results of their study were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The of the first generation have formed out of a primordial gas consisting only of hydrogen and helium. Their mass was ranging from ten to five hundred times the mass of our Sun. Nuclear processes in the interior of these stars have created like iron, silicon, carbon and oxygen. When these stars died during the first supernova explosions, the heavy elements have been ejected, and stars of the second generation could form.

"Even for the oldest-known star in the Milky Way galaxy, our simulations indicate that the gas efficiently cools due to the presence of heavy elements," says Dr. Bovino. Such conditions favor the formation of low-mass stars. The results therefore strongly suggest that the transition to the second generation already occurred after the first . "The heavy elements provide additional mechanisms for the gas to cool, and it is very important to follow their chemical evolution," explains Dr. Tommaso Grassi from the Center for Star and Planet Formation at the University of Copenhagen. The scientists have considered SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 for their study, as its abundance patterns were previously shown to be consistent with one single low-energy supernova.

"It seems very likely that this star is indeed one of the very first stars forming out of the metal-enriched gas, providing the chemical conditions right after the first supernova explosion," says Prof. Dominik Schleicher at the IAG. While this star has a tiny amount of heavy elements, it has a relatively higher carbon abundance. It in fact represents an entire class with similar properties, and the scientists expect a very similar formation pathway for the entire class. "The mass of the stars mostly depends on the temperature of the , as gravity needs to overcome the thermal pressure during ," says Dr. Muhammad Latif, a scientist in the Göttingen Collaborative Research Center 963 on Astrophysical Flow Instabilities and Turbulence.

The new simulations became feasible through the development of the chemistry package KROME, an effort led by Dr. Grassi in Copenhagen. In the future, the scientists plan to explore a wide range of possible conditions to understand the formation of the most metal-poor stars observed in our Milky Way galaxy.

Explore further: Galactic archaeologists uncover new insights into the formation of the earliest stars and galaxies

More information: "Formation of carbon-enhanced metal-poor stars in the presence of far ultraviolet radiation," Stefano Bovino et al., 2014, Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 790, L35: dx.doi.org/10.1088/2041-8205/790/2/L35 , On Arxiv: arxiv.org/abs/1406.4450

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Oldest star' found from iron fingerprint (Update)

Feb 09, 2014

As the Big Bang's name suggests, the universe burst into formation from an immense explosion, creating a vast soup of particles. Gigantic clouds of primordial soup, made mainly of hydrogen and helium, eventually ...

Making the first stars

Nov 18, 2013

(Phys.org) —The first stars in the Universe are believed to have formed only a few hundred million years after the big bang, about 13.7 billion years ago. They heated and ionized the pristine intergalactic ...

Recommended for you

The entropy of black holes

Sep 12, 2014

Yesterday I talked about black hole thermodynamics, specifically how you can write the laws of thermodynamics as laws about black holes. Central to the idea of thermodynamics is the property of entropy, which c ...

Modified theory of dark matter

Sep 12, 2014

Dark matter is an aspect of the universe we still don't fully understand. We have lots of evidence pointing to its existence (as I outlined in a series of posts a while back), and the best evidence we have point ...

Gaia discovers its first supernova

Sep 12, 2014

(Phys.org) —While scanning the sky to measure the positions and movements of stars in our Galaxy, Gaia has discovered its first stellar explosion in another galaxy far, far away.

Astronomers unveil secrets of giant elliptical galaxies

Sep 12, 2014

New findings of how giant elliptical galaxies move have been discovered by an international team of astronomers using the newly installed Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) ...

Exploring the cosmic X-ray background

Sep 12, 2014

You are likely familiar with the cosmic microwave background. This background is a thermal remnant of the big bang. Because of the expansion of the universe, this remnant energy has a temperature of about ...

User comments : 0