Researchers honed instruments on a star that was originally discovered in 1999 and found that its breaking our understanding of the universe.
The new study published on the pre-print server arXiv on January 4 focuses on a distant red giant star called J0931+0038, or the Barbenheimer Star, nicknamed after the "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" movies released on the same day last year. Scientists used Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescopes in New Mexico to observe the star, capturing a detailed spectrum of the light it emits. This data was then verified by the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile.
The results were extremely interesting as the Barbenheimer Star was found to have a very strange chemical composition, specifically a high concentration of heavy elements. Using the data, scientists rewound time through a process called stellar archaeology to find out how the Barbenheimer Star formed, and they discovered that it was birthed out of a star that was between 50 and 80 times the size of the Sun. This parent also featured an unusually high concentration of heavy elements and likely went supernova 13 billion years ago, or just 700 million years after the Big Bang.
Notably, most stars have the opposite chemical composition compared to the Barbenheimer Star, with high stores of lighter elements and low stores of medium and heavy elements. This is due to stars being predominately made up of hydrogen and helium, which fuse together within the star to create heavier elements. These heavier elements then fuse into even heavier elements.
"We've never seen anything like this," study lead author Alex Ji, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. "Whatever happened back then, it must have been amazing."
"We sometimes see one of these features at a time, but we've never before seen all of them in the same star," said study co-author Jennifer Johnson, an astronomer at The Ohio State University
Due to this process being scientists' current understanding of star formation, it is quite difficult to explain the overabundance of heavier elements within the Barbenheimer Star when there isn't a high enough concentration of lighter elements to have formed them.
"Amazingly, no existing model of element formation can explain what we see," said study co-author Sanjana Curtis, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley. It "almost seems self-contradictory," she said.
"The universe directed this movie, we are just the camera crew," study co-author Keith Hawkins, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, said in the statement. "We don't yet know how the story will end."