From the August 2010 issue

How do astronomers make generalizations about the ages of stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects?

Jim McElwain, Kansas City, Missouri
By | Published: August 23, 2010 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
October 2010 globular cluster
Globular clusters typically contain a galaxy’s oldest objects. By finding the ages of those stars, astronomers can pinpoint the galaxy’s age. Astronomers estimate the stars in M15, pictured here, are about 12 billion years old.
NASA/The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

From precise radioactive dating methods, the oldest things we can find in the solar system are primitive stony meteorites. They date to 4.6 billion years.

As they mature and use up their fuel supplies, stars change both their internal and external structures. Theory then suggests how old they are. Stellar vibrations, which allow astronomers to examine stellar interiors, work as well.