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."

Can You Spot the Christmas Pudding?

Whether it’s a sheep hanging out with Santa Claus or a panda bear hiding among some snowmen, regular Mental Floss readers know that hidden picture brainteasers are one of our favorite things. And the optical experts at have released a delicious one, just in time for Christmas. Somewhere in the midst of all these holiday-themed goodies above, there’s a holiday pudding just waiting to be discovered. Can you spot it? Your time starts … now.

If you give up, or are the kind of person who reads the last page of a book before the first one and just wants to know the answer, scroll down to see where it’s hiding.


By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]


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