Discovery makes 13.6 billion year old star universe's oldest celestial body
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
ANU's Skymapper telescope, seen under the southern sky.
- A 13.6 billion-year-old star has been dated by Australian astronomers
- The discovery of star's age makes it the oldest celestial body ever found
- The team used a unique technique for dating stars, based on the amount of iron present
(CNN) -- Australian scientists have dated a star thought to be the oldest yet discovered, and it's right in our neighborhood -- astronomically speaking.
The star, which has been given the name SMSS J031300.36-670839.3, is thought by a team of astronomers at the Australia National University to be 13.6 billion years old.
The star itself is not a new discovery -- it is faintly visible on existing photographic maps of the southern sky. But the recent dating places it as older than any other celestial body previously found.
The star is part of our Milky Way galaxy and only around 6,000 light years from Earth, relatively close in astronomical terms.
Stefan Keller, a research fellow at ANU's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, published the findings in the scientific journal Nature.
"Stars act as time capsules," Keller told CNN. "This one took a little sample of the universe at the time that is was formed ... and means we can study [what the early universe was like] in great detail."
The discovery of the star's age -- which dates it at only a hundred million years younger than scientific estimates of the age of the universe itself -- is significantly older than any previously dated stars. The oldest celestial bodies discovered thus far have been 13.2 billion years old.
Keller and his team used the SkyMapper telescope to find ancient stars as part of an ongoing project to produce the first digital map of the southern sky.
The team used a technique for imaging stars to ascertain how much iron was present -- the younger a star, the greater the amounts of iron it had. The SkyMapper telescope is unique in its ability to find stars with low iron, which uses sophisticated filters to measure the color of the stars, a key indicator of iron levels.
"The stars we are finding number one in a million," said team member Mike Bessell on the University's website.
The team looked at 60 million stars and narrowed down potential candidates to a shortlist of 200, which were examined using the Magellan telescope in Chile.
It is an important cosmological discovery, as it tells researchers a great deal about the origin of the elements that make up the universe.
Keller said that most stars created in the early stages of the universe died in "extremely violent explosions," and that it is unlikely that more stars of a similar age will be found.
Part of complete coverage on
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
For the first time, scientists have created human lungs in a lab -- an exciting step forward in regenerative medicine.
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Tiny rocket-shaped metal particles might one day take a wild ride inside your body.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Ten years ago on New Year's Eve, Dennis Aabo Sorensen was launching fireworks when a defective rocket blew up. He was rushed to the hospital, and his left hand was amputated.
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
There is a light show in the ocean that you can't see, but many fish can. There's quite a display of neon greens, reds, and oranges going on underneath the surface.
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0053 GMT (0853 HKT)
One trillionth of a second after the Big Bang is the timeframe that physicist Joe Incandela knows well.
November 26, 2013 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
Scientists have uncovered archaeological evidence of when Buddha's monumentally influential life occurred.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
November 3, 2013 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Four top environmental scientists raised the stakes Sunday in their fight to reverse climate change and save the planet.
October 18, 2013 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
A new study suggests that a group of marine species with claw-like structures emerging from their heads were related to spiders and scorpions.
October 19, 2013 -- Updated 1604 GMT (0004 HKT)
The most complete early human skull has been found in the European country Georgia.
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT)
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
Today's five most popular stories