Scientists at the Universidad de Concepción have found another key to unlocking the secrets of the universe, after months of investigation at telescopes in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert.
Working with giant telescopes at Las Campanas and Paranal, the astronomers discovered a new object with the characteristics of an RR Lyrae variable star that’s only half as old as these types of celestial bodies tend to be.
The discovery “opens a new window into the investigation of different galaxies, as we now know that the detection of an RR Lyrae pulsating star in a galaxy doesn’t necessarily reflect that galaxy’s age,” announced the Astronomy Department at the university.
Published in the scientific journal Nature, the article has already sparked an interest among the astronomy community, as it may call into question some basic assumptions about how we calculate galaxies’ age and inter-galactic distances.
Typically, RR Lyrae-type stars have a similar mass to that of our Sun, and are about as old as the universe, at 10 billion years. The RR Lyrae-type star discovered by Chilean astronomers – OGLE-BLG-RRLYR-02792 – was found to be about half as old and a quarter as big as normal RR Lyrae pulsating stars.
RR Lyrae pulsating stars are commonly used by astronomers “as tracers of old stellar populations for the purpose of determining the ages of galaxies, and as tools to measure distances to nearby galaxies,” explains the article.
“Now we know that the detection of an RR Lyrae pulsating star in another galaxy does not necessarily indicate that the galaxy is very old – as in, having formed around the time of the Universe’s birth – but could rather be a binary star that’s much younger.”