Monday, 24 September, 2018


Distant galaxy opens door to 'uncharted period of cosmic history'

Distant galaxy opens door to 'uncharted period of cosmic history' Distant galaxy opens door to 'uncharted period of cosmic history'
Kristine Garrett | 17 May, 2018, 14:13

An global team of astronomers has used observations from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to determine that star formation in the gravitationally lensed galaxy MACS1149-JD1 started only 250 million years after the Big Bang.

Before the first stars kicked on, the universe was a relatively boring place, consisting primarily of radiation leftover from the Big Bang, as well as hydrogen and helium.

Scientists have determined this measurement based on lines in the ionized oxygen spectra, rather than employing ionized carbon, which is more commonly used when scanning faraway space objects.

The researchers inferred that the signal was emitted 13.3 billion years ago (or 500 million years after the Big Bang), making it the most distant oxygen ever detected by any telescope.

Our current understanding of the beginning of the universe, including the initial formation of stars and galaxies, may be about to change thanks to the recent detection of oxygen in distant space.

The work of Takuya Hashimoto and his group at Osaka Sangyo University sheds light on the formation of the first stars and suggests that future telescopes - such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which will replace the Hubble 'scope in orbit starting in 2020 - could find new evidence on the formation of first-generation stars, Bouwens said.

The oxygen in MACS1149-JD1 was the most distant ever detected.

M. Postman (STScI), the CLASH Team, Hashimoto et al. For this reason, the presence of distant oxygen is a sign there were earlier generations of stars in this galaxy, an emailed press release on the study reported.

Scientists calculated that the galaxy's stars must have formed 250 million years earlier.

"The mature stellar population in MACS1149-JD1 implies that stars were forming back to even earlier times, beyond what we can now see with our telescopes", said Nicolas Laporte, a researcher at University College London/Université de Toulouse and a member of the research team, in a statement. It would have taken several cycles of star-birth and supernova explosions for there to be enough oxygen to be detected by our instruments today, considering the fact that the oldest stars - called Population III stars - had extremely short lifespans of about 2 million years only.

The researchers confirmed the distance of the galaxy with observations from ground-based telescopes in Chile and reconstructed the earlier history of MACS1149-JD1 using infrared data from orbiting telescopes.

"The mature stellar population in MACS1149-JD1 implies that stars were forming back to even earlier times, beyond what we can now see with our telescopes".

"Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the "Holy Grail" of cosmology and galaxy formation", said Professor Richard Ellis, senior astronomer at University College London. There is renewed optimism we are getting closer and closer to witnessing directly the birth of starlight.

The findings appear in the latest issue of Nature journal. "Since we are all made of a processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins".

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