The universe's first stars spun around at a million miles per hour

The early cosmos might have been full of giant stars spinning 250 times faster than our own sun rotates. These strange spinstars died out after just 30 million years, but they might well have changed the universe forever.

Astrophysicist Cristina Chiappini of Germany's Potsdam Institute led the team that found evidence for such spinstars in the globular cluster NGC 6522. At 12 billion years old, it's the most ancient cluster in the universe, and inside the researchers found evidence for eight old stars with improbably high levels of strontium and yttrium.

The best explanation for this is that they were spinstars, as Space.com's Charles Q. Choi explains:

This high rate of spin would cause overlap between inner and outer gas layers of the star that would not otherwise mix. The resulting cascade of nuclear reactions would generate radioactive neon, which in turn would emit neutrons that would collide with iron and other heavy atoms to create strontium and yttrium. After the spinstars died, these elements made their way into new star-forming clouds and eventually into the stars of NGC 6522, researchers added.

These findings suggest that spinstars may have changed the face of the universe in dramatic ways. For instance, their fast spinning could have led them to create and disperse heavy elements across the universe much earlier than thought. Their whirling could also have led to a greater-than-expected number of gamma ray bursts, the most powerful explosions known in the universe.

The existence of these spinstars could also explain a few key riddles about the early universe. For one thing, it would explain the mysterious reionization of the universe about 400 to 900 million years after the Big Bang, in which the universe's plentiful hydrogen atoms were broken up into their constituent protons and electrons for reasons unkown. It's possible that the far greater brightness of these rapidly rotating stars could have been responsible.

Spinstars also would have potentially dumped a lot of their mass into the stellar wind, which could provide a ready explanation for why we can't find physical evidence for the existence of super massive stars in the early universe, despite the fact that they should be there according to our current predictions.

Via Space.com. Images of Globular Clusters NGC 6522 and 6528 via.