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A Chemical Signature of First-Generation Very-Massive Stars

[Adapted from an announcement from NAOJ] - A team of astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), the Konan University and the University of Hyogo in Japan, the University of Notre Dame, and New Mexico State University has used the 8.2 m Subaru Telescope to discover a distant low-mass star, dubbed SDSS J0018-0939. This special star exhibits the peculiar chemical abundance ratios associated with the process of creating new atomic nuclei (nucleosynthesis) in a first-generation very-massive star. Until now, no observational evidence has supported numerical simulations of the existence of very-massive stars among the first generation of stars formed after the Big Bang.

These first-generation stars are objects formed in the early Universe (within a few hundred million years after the Big Bang) from gas clouds containing only hydrogen and helium. First-generation stars are the probable precursors of the formation of the Universe's structure and chemical enrichment; large stellar systems, e.g., galaxies, formed later.

Further research to find early generations of low-mass metal-poor stars is necessary to estimate the proportion of very-massive stars among the first stars. If very-massive stars are relatively common, next-generation large telescopes such as Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will have the potential to directly detect groups of such first stars in studies of the most distant galaxies.

Dr. Wako Aoki, TMT-Japan Communications Scientist, was lead author on the paper describing these findings titled "A chemical signature of first-generation very-massive stars," published in the journal Science on August 22, 2014.

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