TIME astronomy

Millions of Stars May Be Made of Nothing But Metal

Handout of the evolving universe is shown in this composite of separate exposures taken in 2003 to 2012 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3
A composite of separate exposures taken in 2003 to 2012 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 of the evolving universe is shown in this handout photo provided by NASA, June 3, 2014. NASA—Reuters

Astronomers have yet to find one, but until now they haven't been looking

An astronomer at the California Institute of Technology has discovered that some stars — maybe as many as 1 in 10,000 — are made entirely of metal.

It’s the latest finding in a series of eureka moments fueled by recent studies of turbulence, a term that scientifically refers to “certain complex and unpredictable motions.” To keep an immensely complicated subtopic of fluid mechanics simple: in turbulent environments, we can witness something called “preferential concentration,” or the tendency of denser particles to gather together in concentrated regions.

Scientists recently discovered that preferential concentration can explain how raindrops are formed — by denser water vapor particles coalescing. It’s similar with stars, except in their case it’s elements coalescing in turbulent gas clouds rather than water.

If the densest particles in gas clouds are metallic elements, and preferential concentration impels dense particles to gather together, then it logically follows, researchers say, that some stars — which, at the end of the day, are nothing more than matter held together by their own gravity — must be made entirely of metal.

Of course, astronomers have yet to find one of these stars, but before the Caltech team released its research late last month, they presumably didn’t have much of a reason to look for one.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,470 other followers