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Weird star research continues at the Vatican Observatory
Stars might not come to mind at the sight of the word “barium”. Something unpleasant might. Barium, a metallic chemical element whose atoms contain 56 protons in their nuclei, has many uses. One use involves X-ray images of the gastrointestinal tract—hence, “something unpleasant”.

Fr. Chris Corbally, S.J., an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, is studying something both pleasant and weird involving barium—a barium star. This past October, Corbally and a group of twenty-eight other astronomers published the paper “TU Tau B: The Peculiar ‘Eclipse’ of a Possible Proto-barium Giant” in The Astronomical Journal.

Astronomers classify stars by their light, especially when that light is dispersed into a rainbow-like spectrum of its component colors, usually modified by the chemical elements present in the star. Different letters, O B A F G K M, indicate different star types, with O stars being the hottest among stars, M stars being the coolest (hot by human standards, however), and our Sun being a G star. The idea of such stellar classification dates to Fr. Angelo Secchi, S.J., one of the nineteenth-century’s pioneers of the science of spectroscopy, whose observatory was located atop St. Ignatius Church in Rome.
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