Cluster Reveals Its Secrets
September 5, 2012

Fountain Of Youth Found, But Not Where You Would Expect

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Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Juan Ponce de León set sail to the Americas to try and find the fountain of youth, but maybe if he had a better telescope he could have just looked up to find it.

The European Space Observatory (ESO) released a new image taken by La Silla Observatory in Chile that shows the globular star cluster Messier 4, and one particular star that seems like it belongs in California.

The cluster contains tens of thousands of ancient stars, and is one of the closest and most studied of the globular clusters.

Messier 4, or NGC 6121, is one of the closest globular star clusters located near Earth, and sits in the constellation of Scorpius.

The new image, which was taken with the Wide Field Imager (WFI), reveals many more of the cluster's tens of thousands of stars and shows the cluster against the background of the Milky Way.

Astronomers have used many instruments to study stars located in the cluster individually, including ESO's Very Large Telescope. Scientists are able to determine a star's chemical composition and age by splitting up the light from the stars into component colors.

The new results from ESO show that one of the stars was found to have much more of the rare light element lithium than expected. The source of this lithium is mysterious.

Normally, this element is destroyed over billions of years of a star's life, but this one star is said by ESO to have the secret of eternal life.

The star has either managed to retain its original lithium, or it has found a way to enrich itself with more lithium.

Most chemical elements heavier than helium are created in stars and dispersed into the interstellar medium at the end of their lives. This enriched material then forms the building blocks of future stellar generations, ESO said.

Older stars found in older globular star clusters are found to have lower abundances of heavier elements when compared to stars such as the Sun, which formed later.

It seems as though despite its age, the star shown in the recent Messier 4 image has found the secret that Ponce de León was looking for.