Astronomers have detected a star that should not exist.  Current theory cannot explain the composition of a star in the constellation Leo.  This “freakish star,” moreover, is probably not unique.  What is it, exactly, that modern star formation theory does explain?

Science Daily reported the reactions by astronomers to this star, named SDSS J102915+172927, found with the Very Large Telescope in Chile. They called the star “primitive” because it has very low abundance of metals – that is (to astronomers) any elements heavier than hydrogen, helium and lithium (the initial elements thought to be formed after the big bang)  The strong spectral line of calcium was detected, but they had to look long and hard to find others. posted a video with freakish music to match, showing the star’s location in Leo, headlining, “Star That Should Never Have Existed, Exists.” At New Scientist, Lisa Grossman tried to describe the surprise of finding this star:

Imagine you’re an archaeologist. You find what looks like the skeleton of a protohuman. One hand seems to be grasping an object – could it be a clue to how these early beings lived? You scrape off the mud only to find that the object resembles a cellphone.

Your sense of shock is akin to how Lorenzo Monaco of the European Southern Observatory in Chile and colleagues must have felt when they examined the elemental composition of an oddball star, prosaically named SDSS J102915+172927.

Two major difficulties arise from this star.  Elisabeth Caffau (University of Heidelberg, University of Paris) explained the first: “A widely accepted theory predicts that stars like this, with low mass and extremely low quantities of metals, shouldn’t exist because the clouds of material from which they formed could never have condensed.”  New Scientist said this star has 4.5 millionths the heavy elements found in our sun….

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