Astronomers discovered a massive star and named it Barbenheimer because ‘we’ve never seen anything like it before’

Astronomers discovered a massive star and named it Barbenheimer because 'we've never seen anything like it before'

The unusual mix of chemical elements measured helped reconstruct the history of the giant star – University of Chicago/SDSS-V/Melissa Weiss (SWNS)

Astronomers have discovered a massive celestial entity so unusual that they have named it a ‘Barpenheimer’s star’ – a moniker that refers to the recent cultural phenomenon of two blockbuster films, Barbie and Oppenheimer, which were complete opposites, but very successful at the same moment (‘Barpenheimer’).

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) team has discovered evidence of an ancient, “hot” star that exploded in a way that was previously thought impossible.

The explosion created an unusual pattern of elemental ash that left behind a trail of evidence still visible billions of years later.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said the study’s lead author, Alex Gee of the University of Chicago and SDSS. “Whatever happened at the time, it must have been amazing.”

Ji and his colleagues tracked the path through time using a process called “stellar archaeology.”

Just as archaeologists use evidence in the present to reconstruct the past, astronomers use evidence in today’s stars to reconstruct conditions in the ancient universe. Today’s stars are like chemical time capsules: they preserve what a piece of the universe looked like when the star was born.

The star (scientific name J0931+0038) was captured in an image by the SDSS Milky Way Mapper program, which monitors the star’s spectrum, temperature and chemical composition, and it was the chemistry that led Ji and his team of stellar archaeologists to discover it. Notice it.

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Stars are composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, but they also contain some heavier elements, which were created in previous generations of stars and released into the universe in supernova explosions.

Illustration of a supernova explosion with elements flying out from the center of J0931+0038, Barbenheimer’s star – Image Credit: University of Chicago/SDSS-V/Melissa Weiss via SWNS

J0931+0038 had an unusually low amount of magnesium, prompting further follow-up from the Magellan telescopes in Chile. When Ji and his colleagues first saw the follow-up spectrum of J0931+0038, they were amazed.

“As soon as I saw the spectrum, I immediately emailed the rest of the team to talk about how we could learn more,” said Gee, who was eventually dubbed “Barbenheimer’s star” because of his “amazing nucleosynthesis.”

Several things made the star different from other stars: a lower abundance of odd-numbered elements in the periodic table such as sodium and aluminum; A large amount of elements close to iron in the periodic table, such as nickel and zinc; An abundance of heavier elements such as strontium and palladium.

“Sometimes we see one of these features at once, but we’ve never seen them all before in the same star,” says Jennifer Johnson of Ohio State University, another member of the stellar archeology team.

What makes it popular?

So what made J0931+0038 look like this? The star formed from the supernova remnants of whatever star had existed before, so its unusual composition meant that the star that had existed before must also have been highly unusual. It is this strange ancient star whose remains we see preserved today.

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Whatever Barbenheimer’s star is, it must have been a huge hit, with a mass of at least 50 to 80 times that of our Sun. In fact, this ancient supernova must have been so massive that astronomers were surprised it could happen at all.

Previous theories predicted that such large stars should collapse directly into black holes, without creating a supernova first. It’s surprising to know that such a massive star could go supernova, but that doesn’t even explain the whole picture.

“Surprisingly, there is no existing model of element formation that can explain what we see,” says Sanjana Curtis of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-led the published study. “It’s not just saying, ‘Oh, you can tweak something here and there and it’ll work’ — the whole pattern of elements seems almost contradictory to itself.”

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To resolve this apparent contradiction, astronomers need more and better computer simulations to predict what happened with stars in the early universe. They need more observations of today’s stars to provide evidence for their simulations. Given that the SDSS team discovered evidence of a Barbenheimer star on the first night they followed up on their initial observations, we can expect many fascinating results in the years to come.

“The universe directed this movie, and we’re just the camera crew,” says Keith Hawkins of the University of Texas at Austin and SDSS spokesman. “We don’t know yet how the story will end.”

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