Nav: Home

Stars formed only 250 million years after the Big Bang

May 16, 2018

Stars in a galaxy 13.28 billion light years away formed only 250 million years after the Big Bang, finds a team of international astronomers led by groups at UCL and Osaka Sangyo University in Japan.

The discovery shows that stars in the galaxy - called MACS1149-JD1 - formed at an unexpectedly early stage in the age of the Universe and the new observations break the team's own record for detecting the most distant known source of oxygen.

The team confirmed the distance of the galaxy through observations undertaken with the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array (ALMA) and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT); the distance corresponds to looking back to a time when the Universe was only 500 million years old, which is 3.5% of its present age.

Although the presence of galaxies at this epoch is not necessarily surprising, the detection of oxygen in MACS1149-JD1 indicates a more remarkable conclusion. Oxygen is only created in stars and then released into the gas clouds in galaxies when those stars die. 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.

"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. We are therefore able to use this galaxy to probe into an earlier, completely uncharted, period of cosmic history!" explained Dr Nicolas Laporte, second author and a postdoctoral researcher at UCL who led the VLT observing campaign."

The study, published today in the journal Nature, was an international and collaborative effort. The Japanese team, led by Dr Takuya Hashimoto and Professor Akio Inoue of the Osaka Sangyo University, used ALMA to observe the distant galaxy called MACS1149-JD1. They detected a signal from ionised oxygen whose infrared light was stretched ten-fold to microwave wavelengths by the expansion of the Universe.

Dr Laporte independently confirmed the inferred distance of 13.28 billion light years by detecting emissions of hydrogen using the VLT [1]. These signals also stretched to near-infrared wavelengths, making MACS1149-JD1 the most distant known galaxy with a precise distance measurement [2].

ALMA has set the record for the most distant known source several times. In 2016, Professor Inoue and his colleagues detected oxygen emission at 13.1 billion light-years. Several months later, Dr Laporte used ALMA to detect oxygen at 13.2 billion light-years away. Both teams merged efforts to achieve this new record.

"ALMA is now clearly the most powerful instrument for securing distances to galaxies in the early Universe ahead of the expected launch of the James Webb Space Telescope," commented Professor Richard Ellis, a co-author also at UCL.

The team reconstructed the earlier history of MACS1149-JD1 using infrared data taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. The observed brightness of the galaxy is well explained by a model where the onset of star formation corresponds to a time only 250 million years after the Universe began.

The maturity of the stars seen in MACS1149-JD1 raises the question of when the very first galaxies emerged from total darkness, an epoch astronomers call `cosmic dawn'.

By establishing the age of MACS1149-JD1, the team has effectively demonstrated the existence of early galaxies to times earlier than those where we can currently directly detect them.

Professor Ellis said: "Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the `Holy Grail' of cosmology and galaxy formation. With MACS1149-JD1, we have managed to probe history beyond the limits of when we can actually detect galaxies with current facilities. There is renewed optimism we are getting closer and closer to witnessing directly the birth of starlight. Since we are all made of processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins."
[1] The measured redshift of galaxy MACS1149-JD1 is z=9.11. A calculation based on the latest cosmological parameters measured with Planck (H0=67.3 km/s/Mpc, Ωm=0.315, Λ=0.685: Planck 2013 Results) yields the distance of 13.28 billion light-years. Please refer to "Expressing the distance to remote objects" for details.

[2] The galaxy GN-z11 is thought to be located 13.4 billion light-years away based on observations with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). But the precision of that distance measurement with is significantly lower than that of MACS1149-JD1 which is based on the use of two independent emission lines from atoms of hydrogen and oxygen.

University College London

Related Big Bang Articles:

'Big Food' companies have less power than you might think
A Dartmouth study finds that 'Big Food' companies are striving to make food more sustainable from farm to factory but have less power than you might think.
Looking for signs of the Big Bang in the desert
The Simons Observatory will be built in the Chilean Atacama desert for the purposes of studying primordial gravitational waves which originated in the first instants of the Big Bang.
More bang for the buck
Researchers find cost-effective solutions to sediment runoff and other land-based pollution affecting West Maui reefs
Big data for the universe
Astronomers at Lomonosov Moscow State University in cooperation with their French colleagues and with the help of citizen scientists have released 'The Reference Catalog of galaxy SEDs,' which contains value-added information about 800,000 galaxies.
Can big data yield big ideas? Blend novel and familiar, new study finds
Struggling to get your creative juices flowing for a new idea or project?
Why big brains are rare
Do big-brained creatures steal energy for them from other organs or eat more to supply this expensive tissue?
New antimatter breakthrough to help illuminate mysteries of the Big Bang
Swansea University physicists working with an international collaborative team at CERN, conduct the first precision study of antihydrogen, the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen.
Big data for little creatures
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at UC Riverside has received $3 million from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers who will learn how to exploit the power of big data to understand insects.
How we escaped from the Big Bang
A Griffith University physicist is challenging the conventional view of space and time to show how the world advances through time.
Big PanDA tackles big data for physics and other future extreme scale scientific applications
A team of physicists just received $2.1 million in funding for 2016-2017 from DOE's Advanced Scientific Computing Research program to enhance a 'workload management system' for handling the ever-increasing data demands of two experiments at the Large Hadron Collider and expanding its use as a general workload management service for a Department of Energy supercomputer.

Related Big Bang Reading:

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe
by Simon Singh (Author)

Bang!: How We Came to Be
by Michael Rubino (Author)

George and the Big Bang (George's Secret Key)
by Stephen Hawking (Author), Lucy Hawking (Author), Garry Parsons (Illustrator)

The Big History Timeline Wallbook: Unfold the History of the Universe―from the Big Bang to the Present Day!
by Christopher Lloyd (Author), Andy Forshaw (Illustrator)

Older than The Stars
by Karen C. Fox (Author), Nancy Davis (Illustrator)

Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible
by Gerald Schroeder (Author)

One Day a Dot: The Story of You, The Universe, and Everything
by Ian Lendler (Author), Shelli Paroline (Illustrator), Braden Lamb (Illustrator)

The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe
by Eric Lerner (Author)

The Big Bang Theory 2018 Day-at-a-Time Box Calendar
by Trends International (Author)

A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes
by Zeeya Merali (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

The Story Behind The Numbers
Is life today better than ever before? Does the data bear that out? This hour, TED speakers explore the stories we tell with numbers — and whether those stories portray the full picture. Guests include psychologist Steven Pinker, economists Tyler Cowen and Michael Green, journalist Hanna Rosin, and environmental activist Paul Gilding.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#487 Knitting in PEARL
This week we're discussing math and things made from yarn. We welcome mathematician Daina Taimina to the show to discuss her book "Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes: Tactile Mathematics, Art and Craft for all to Explore", and how making geometric models that people can play with helps teach math. And we speak with research scientist Janelle Shane about her hobby of training neural networks to do things like name colours, come up with Halloween costume ideas, and generate knitting patterns: often with hilarious results. Related links: Crocheting the Hyperbolic Plane by Daina Taimina and David Henderson Daina's Hyperbolic Crochet blog...