First stars made after Big Bang identified

Katie Ramirez
May 17, 2018

Light emitted by MACS1149-JD1 traveled 13.28 billon light years before reaching Earth.

For MACS1149-JD1 to contain substantial amounts of oxygen, many stars must have already gone through that whole life cycle.

A supernova burns for only a short period of time, but it can tell scientists a lot about how the universe began.

Stars in a galaxy far, far away formed just 250 million years after the birth of the universe - earlier than any others known, British-led astronomers have found.

Bowens points out that it is still uncertain if the star activity observed in MACS1149-JD1 also took place in different parts of the early Universe but he claims that the finding "will certainly boost similar studies of other galaxies". Within the galaxy, the team was surprised to discover faint signals of ionized oxygen that were emitted nearly 13.3 billion years ago (or 500 million years after the Big Bang). The presence of oxygen in MACS1149-JD1 therefore indicates that a previous generation of stars had already formed and died at an even earlier time.

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 team, led by astronomers at University College London in the United Kingdom and Osaka Sangyo University in Japan, detected a very faint glow emitted by ionized oxygen in MACS1149-JD1.

Oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen will only form in the universe after stars first fusion and then die, spewing these elements into interstellar space.

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They measured the frequency of a peak in the galaxy's spectrum that comes from ionized oxygen gas. This makes MACS1149-JD1 the most distant galaxy with a precise distance measurement.

"This galaxy is seen at a time when the universe was only 500m years old and yet it already has a population of mature stars", said Nicolas Laporte, a researcher at University College London in the United Kingdom and second author of the new paper.

The scientists also reconstructed the earlier history of MACS1149-JD1 using infrared data taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

The galaxy's "red shift", a measurement technique that shows the distance to - and the age of - astronomical objects, was determined to be 9.1096, the largest value ever detected to date using spectral line analysis, the publication said.

"Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the holy grail of cosmology and galaxy formation", said Richard Ellis, co-author of the paper. "With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1, we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight!"

'Since we are all made of processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins'.

"Prior to our study, there were only theoretical predictions of the earliest star formation".

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