A star rich in zirconium -the material used by jewelers to make false diamonds – has been discovered by a team of astronomers from Northern Ireland’s Armagh Observatory.
The zirconium glitters in clouds above the star’s surface.
The star is called LS IV-14 116. It is 2,000 light years from our sun and Earth, in the direction of the border between the constellations of Capricornus and Aquarius.
The team made the discovery while looking for chemical clues that explain why a small group of stars reaching the end of their lives – known as helium-rich hot subdwarfs – have much less hydrogen on their surfaces than other similar stars.
The scientists dispersed the light of the star into a spectrum. Different elements and molecules give rise to characteristic patterns in stellar spectra, allowing Earth-based scientists to determine the composition of stars and other objects. As expected, the spectrum of LS IV-14 116 had the usual lines arising from more common elements, but other strong lines were less easy to identify. A careful study showed four of these lines were due to a form of zirconium that only exists at temperatures above 20,000 degrees Celsius and had never previously been found in an astronomical spectrum.
The scientists published their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.