They won’t, they say, win the coin toss, but astronomers studying an ancient astronomical spot in the Atacama Desert believe they could have a winner, they say.
The most likely spot, according to observations, is the La Cumbre craters.
In recent weeks, a group of scientists – led by Francois-Xavier Repard of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Debra Fischer, an astronomer from Johns Hopkins University – were out looking for bright spots with Hubble, more than 35 million light-years away. At their center: La Cumbre craters.
The astronomers started searching for a rare galactic remnant, called the “A-star,” or at least what one author calls a “medium-bright star in the very early part of the universe.” This “super-A-star” is the highest formed star of its generation and is similar to our sun, but has been destroyed by “dark energy,” which makes the galaxy galaxies less dense and objects like stars spin more slowly. The nearest candidate, this object, is about 10 times fainter than the star the team was looking for.
Each night, the astronomers – observing from the July Mountains, as they call it – continue to chase stars, alighting at the mountains’ two observatories. Fischer was the first to spot a new “Signal 1” (perhaps the A-star’s more familiar moniker?) – a dazzling, bright spot on the sky. A short time later, a couple of “signals” followed, one following a pinhead-sized distant star, which had appeared to spin a little slower than usual, Fisher writes in an email.
When the three stars fell into a single pattern, the astronomers suggested that this constellation is more like our Solar System’s Oval Nebula than one of our old “primary” stars: The stars there are not destroyed by dark energy, but continue rotating; at least one of them is still producing as much energy as a million suns.
“We only have a few seconds of observing time, so we have to be very selective,” Fischer said in a statement. The team’s results “are pointing to a candidate that is really different.”
It’s not clear what would make this star, long since destroyed by dark energy, shine so brightly, the astronomers say.
“We often think of dark energy as passive and cold, which was exciting to think about,” Repard said in a statement. “But then we realized that maybe dark energy could be creating this kind of rich, starburst-like environment.”
Fischer added: “If all goes as planned, the extreme starburst environment in this region will reveal many things, the results of which are quite remarkable.”
In comparison to some of the other places in the Universe where astronomers are now, La Cumbre craters are no big deal. We’re looking, Fischer said, for “microcosmic universes.”
The team’s observations are still pending confirmation from the Hubble telescope, a process Fischer said they “don’t expect anytime soon.”
And even if they’re not right – and if there is, in fact, alien life in these craters – at least one thing is certain, the scientist said.