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The oldest star in the universe

Researchers from ANU have discovered the oldest known star in the universe, with a little help from NCI.

ANU's SkyMapper telescope. Photo by James Gilbert.

ANU’s SkyMapper telescope. Photo by James Gilbert.

The discovery gives us clues to what the universe was like in its infancy, 13.7 billion years ago.

The star was discovered using the ANU SkyMapper telescope, which is producing the first digital map of the southern sky.

Each morning, the previous night’s observations are sent via high-speed cable to NCI. Raijin sorts through the images, calibrating exposure levels and removing overlaps. The data is then sent back to SkyMapper – which is based in Coonabarabran, NSW – in time for that night’s observations.

“We push down about a terabyte of raw images a day so we can keep pace with the telescope,” says lead researcher Dr Stefan Keller. “On long, clear winter nights the telescope can produce about 800 images.

“It’s really important that we keep that pipeline running and up to date. After processing we review the quality of the images to determine whether we need to retake them.”

Dr Keller says that without Raijin the processing pipeline would fall behind.

“Because of the large number of cores available, Raijin enables us to split those 800 images into 800 separate jobs. It’s possible to process 800 images in the time it would take to do one.”

Dr Keller says it was previously thought that the earliest stars died in violent explosions that polluted huge volumes of space with iron; but this ancient star shows no sign of pollution with iron.

The discovery may resolve a long-standing discrepancy between observations and predictions of the Big Bang.

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