Science

Astronomers find stars forming just 250 million years after Big Bang

Astronomers find stars forming just 250 million years after Big Bang”

The results will appear in the journal Nature on 17 May 2018. MACS1149-JD1 is the most distant galaxy with a precise distance measurement.

And although it was faint, the researchers detected the signal of oxygen in the galaxy's spectrum. But then the gas would have fallen back in, igniting a second burst of star formation at around the time of the ALMA observations, 500 million years after the Big Bang.

Using the giant ALMA telescope in Chile, researchers were able to observe the distant galaxy MACS1149-JD1 when it was just 550 million years old, a time when it contained stars that were about 300 million years old.

"I was thrilled to see the signal of the distant oxygen in the ALMA data", Hashimoto said. The massive newborn stars in the second burst ionize oxygen, and it's those emissions that have been detected with ALMA. Image: ALMA, NASA/ESA HST, W. Zheng (JHU), M.Postman (STScI), the CLASH Team, Hashimoto et al. The infrared light emitted from oxygen was stretched to microwave wavelengths by the expansion of the Universe before it reached Earth and was observed by ALMA. "This detection pushes back the frontiers of the observable universe".

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an global astronomy facility, is a partnership of the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The distance to the galaxy determined from this observation is consistent with the distance from the oxygen observation.

Dr Nicolas Laporte, from University College London, who co-led the team, said: 'This is an exciting discovery as this galaxy is seen at a time when the Universe was only 500 million years old and yet it already has a population of mature stars. The astronomers suppose that the first star formation burst blew the gas away from the galaxy, which would suppress the star formation.

Although the presence of galaxies at this epoch is not necessarily surprising, the detection of oxygen in MACS1149-JD1 indicates a more remarkable conclusion.

But when did this earlier star formation occur?

The study authors conclude "it may be possible to detect such early episodes of star formation in similar galaxies with future telescopes".

Pinpointing this period of star birth - which gave rise to oxygen, carbon and other elements in the Universe - is a holy grail for astronomers chasing down the beginning of everything.

The study marked another step forward as scientists hunt for evidence of the first stars and galaxies that emerged from what had been total darkness in the aftermath of the Big Bang, a time sometimes called "cosmic dawn". By establishing the age of MACS1149-JD1, the team has effectively demonstrated that galaxies existed earlier than those we can now directly detect.

"With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1 we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight!" said Richard Ellis, senior astronomer at UCL and co-author of the paper in a statement.

The find comes thanks to observations of an ancient galaxy known as MACS1149-JD1, first detected in 2012. "Since we are all made of processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins". In 2016, Professor Inoue and his colleagues detected oxygen emission at 13.1 billion light-years.



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