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Distant galaxy hints at universe's earliest stars

17 May 2018, 10:46 | Dale Webster

Researchers Close In On Birthdate of First Stars

Distant galaxy hints at universe's earliest stars

In the galaxy MACS1149-JD1, located 13.28 billion light years away, astronomers found the oxygen, which, in their opinion, could appear there after only 500 million years after the Big Bang. 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).

With the help of the Atacama large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, astronomers have detected the earliest signs of oxygen (red) distributed in the galaxy MACS1149-JD1.

In addition to the glow from oxygen picked up by ALMA, a weaker signal of hydrogen emission was also detected by VLT. Oxygen and other heavier elements were created in the cores of massive stars and then released into the surrounding space when those stars exploded or blew off their outer atmospheres.

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.

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.

What made this discovery so incredible is that the signal is believed to have been emitted 13.3bn years ago making it not only the most distant oxygen ever detected, but shows stars were forming as little as 250m years after the Big Bang.




The real breakthrough was the detection of oxygen in the galaxy, which is observable in the Leo constellation, though not with the naked eye.

Star cluster MACS1149-JD1 is the most remote object in space, the distance to which they are able to determine.

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 presence of oxygen is a clear sign that there must have been even earlier generations of stars in this galaxy.

Cosmic Dawn is the name given to that time when the very first stars lit up the pitch-black universe.

"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. That gives us an indication of how much earlier in the history of the Universe - which we can't now probe with our telescopes - that this object actually formed. "With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1 we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight. Since we are all made of a processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins".



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