Impossibly Old Star Made More Possible
There are a myriad of old age jokes out there from having telephone number '1' to having to hunt dinosaurs for dinner. Now the classic 'older than dirt' joke has been given a new spin by HD 140283, the Methuselah star, as it comes in at about 14.5 billion years old, in our 13.8 billion year old Universe. Don't worry though, thanks to researchers at the Goddard Space Flight Center and their work with the Hubble Space Telescope that is actually a younger and more possible age than the 16 billion years old age the star had previously been given.
This star has been interesting to astronomers since before its age was calculated because of its great speed, eccentric orbit around the galaxy, and relative closeness at just 190.1 light years away. Unlike its orbit though, precisely calculating the star's age is quite difficult though, and in 2000 when this was done the result came back as 16 billion years old, which is simply impossible. Fortunately Hubble has now studied the star and greatly narrowed the margin of error and shed billions of years from its age by putting it at just 14.5 billion years old, with an error of +/- 0.8 billion years.
Hubble has had help though as our improved understanding of the inner workings of stars allows us to theoretically determine its age using information about its composition and similar characteristics. With luck one day we will be able to actually date the star firmly after the Big Bang.
Source: Goddard Space Flight Center