Reasons to Believe

Q&A: Is the Methuselah Star Older Than the Universe?

John from Tennessee

I was curious about what effect, if any, an anomaly like HD 140283, commonly know as the Methuselah star, would have on your model. If it were found to be actually 14.5 billion years old, as opposed to falling in the 800-million-year margin for error, what would this mean and could it be explained in any rational way?

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HD 140283 is a high-velocity star within the solar neighborhood of our Milky Way Galaxy (MWG). Its high velocity indicates that it came from the halo of our galaxy. The halo is where the MWG’s oldest stars reside.

This Methuselah star currently ranks as the star with the oldest measured age (14.46 ± 0.31 billion years).1 However, this age measurement is in apparent conflict with the best measured age for the universe (13.79 ± 0.06 billion years).2 The difference between the two ages is slightly less than twice the combined error measurements—a difference scientists do not consider great enough to put the big bang creation model in serious doubt. (The typical standard for rejecting a model from consideration is a difference of five times the combined error measurement.)

Astronomers cite two other more important reasons for not deeming HD 140283 to be a threat to the big bang creation model. First, the quoted error of 0.31 billion years in the age measurement of HD 140283 includes only the uncertainty in the star’s distance from Earth. Much larger contributions to the error budget include uncertainties in the star’s chemical composition, especially in its oxygen abundance. These uncertainties raise the error estimate to ± 0.8 billion years. Thus, the difference between the age determinations for Methuselah and the universe is only 78 percent of the combined error measurement, a difference much too small to be considered a problem.

Second, HD 140283 is the only known star with a less-than-1-billion-years error determination on its age and that measures to be older than the universe. Given that there are hundreds of billions of stars in the MWG, it seems HD 140283 is almost certainly a statistical artifact.

With current age-measuring uncertainties, the fact that only one star, so far, has an age measure discrepant with the universe’s age strongly suggests that stars smaller than ten times the mass of the Sun did not form very quickly after the cosmic creation event. Data on the oldest stars in the MWG, including data on HD 140283, establish that at least 200 million years transpired between the cosmic creation event and the formation of the first stars capable of shining through to the present moment. (The first stars to form in the universe were hyper-giant stars, possessing 30–200 times the Sun’s mass, which burned up in just a few million years or less.)

Methuselah’s age measure does establish that it formed soon after the big bang creation event and that it was one of the first non-hyper-giant stars to form. This age measure (of billions rather than thousands of years) also provides yet one more piece of strong evidence3 that the young-earth creationist model for the history of the universe is incorrect.

Subjects: Big Bang

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.

References:

  1. Howard E. Bond et al., “HD 140283: A Star in the Solar Neighborhood that Formed Shortly after the Big Bang,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 765 (March 2013): id. L12.
  2. Planck Collaboration, “Planck 2013 Results. XVI. Cosmological Parameters,” Astronomy and Astrophysics 571 (November 2014): id. A16; G. Hinshaw et al., “Nine-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Cosmological Parameter Results,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement 208 (October 2013): id. 19.
  3. For other evidences, both biblical and scientific, see my book, A Matter of Days, 2nd exp. ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015).