The oldest galaxy known might be a tiny dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way.

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The oldest galaxy known might be a tiny dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way.

Segue 1 is very, very tiny. It appears to contain only a few hundred stars, compared with the few hundred billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Researchers led by Anna Frebel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge collected detailed information on the elemental composition of six of the brightest of Segue 1’s stars using the Las Campanas Observatory’s Magellan Telescopes in Chile and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The measurements, reported in a paper accepted for Astrophysical Journal and posted on the arXiv repository, revealed that these stars are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and contain just trace amounts of heavier elements such as iron. No other galaxy studied holds so few heavy elements, making Segue 1 the “least chemically evolved galaxy known.”

Complex elements are forged inside the cores of stars by the nuclear fusion of more basic elements such as hydrogen and helium atoms. When stars explode in supernovae, even heavier atoms are created. elements spew into space to infuse the gas that births the next generation of stars, so that each successive generation contains more and more heavy elements, known as metals. “Segue 1 is so ridiculously metal-poor that we suspect at least a couple of the stars are direct descendants of the first stars ever to blow up in the universe,” says study co-author Evan Kirby of the University of California, Irvine.


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