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Astronomers Have Discovered the Oldest Stars Ever Seen in Our Galaxy

Cosmology studies suggest that the first stars did not appear until 100 million years after the Big Bang. Scientists have recently discovered stars at the center of the galaxy that they believe are not only more ancient than the approximately 13.2-billion-year-old Milky Way, but may be among the oldest objects ever discovered. 

Documented in a Nature article published earlier this week, the discovery was made by a team of astronomers using the Australian National University SkyMapper telescope. The team included ANU Ph.D. student Louise Howes, who explains in the video above that the lack of metals in the atmosphere of the stars is one reason they suspect the stars are very old. The early universe was composed of hydrogen, helium, and small amounts of lithium; all other elements were created later in the supernova explosions of stars.

"We expected them to be lacking in metals, but we also found that they were lacking in elements such as carbon and magnesium," Howes says. Those elements would have come from "pollution" caused by older exploded stars. Because these stars lack those elements, they appear to be quite ancient. "The relatively small stars, for some reason, had 10 times the amount of energy that we would expect, and exploded in what we call a 'hypernova,'" she said. The hypernova would have released a lot of other elements, like iron and nickel, but not much carbon or magnesium.

Their proximity to the center of the galaxy was another clue, because it's thought the first stars formed at the galaxy center, where the effects of gravity are the strongest. 

"The chemical signature imprinted on those stars tells us about an epoch in the universe that's otherwise completely inaccessible," said study co-author Andrew Casey, of Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy, in a press statement. "The universe was probably very different early on, but to know by how much, we've really just got to find more of these stars: more needles in bigger haystacks."

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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