Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle - - - Like a Zircon in the Sky

"Distant Star Enveloped By Ingredients for Fake Diamonds "
Space.com (December 7, 2010)

"A faraway star sparkles with the largest amount of zirconium — the stuff fake diamonds are made from — ever seen, according to a new study.

"The star has about 10,000 times more zirconium than our sun, in a form never recorded by astronomers before, researchers said. The strange star also has far more than the usual amounts of other elements like strontium, germanium and yttrium, they added.

" 'The huge excess of zirconium was a complete surprise,' the study's lead author, Naslim Neelamkodan, from Northern Ireland's Armagh Observatory, said in a statement. 'We had no reason to think this star was more peculiar than any other faint blue star discovered so far.'

"The researchers estimate that the zirconium cloud layer on the star weighs about 4 billion tons, or 4,000 times the world's annual production of zirconium...."

The star's called LS IV-14 116, it's about 2,000 light-years away and too dim to see without a really good telescope. If you could see it, it'd be on or near the border between the constellations Capricorn and Aquarius.

And no: the Lemming does not think that the freakishly high concentration of zirconium on that star is evidence of space aliens. It'd make a good story though: Enterprising space aliens fiddling with a star's chemistry to produce billions of tons of zirconium - which they would use to mass-produce cubic zirconia jewelry, undercutting the galaxy's diamond trade and thereby crushing the De Beers-Illuminati conspiracy!

Oops. The Lemming got carried away.

Back to the real world and LS IV-14 116.

Apparently the star is of the sort called a helium-rich hot subdwarf, except that it's - different. As the article said:

"...They found evidence of various common elements, as expected. But less expected were the strong signals indicating the presence of zirconium, in an odd form that exists only at temperatures above 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit (20,000 degrees Celsius).

"This type of zirconium had never been found in an astronomical spectrum, according to researchers...."

So: LS IV-14 116 is really different: with a unique substance in its atmosphere. As the Lemming's written before: when observation matches pretty closely to what's predicted, that's satisfactory; when observation shows something unexpected, that's exciting. It's exciting because there's something new to be learned.

In this case, probably about stellar evolution.

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2 comments:

Brigid said...

Eh?: "Apparently the star the sort called"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

Eh? How's that!

Thanks, by the way.

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