Astronomers Detect Oxygen From Universe's First Stars

Posted: May 18 2018, 6:43am CDT | by , Updated: May 18 2018, 6:54am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Astronomers Detect Oxygen from Universe's First Stars
The oxygen distribution detected in distant galaxy MACS1149-JD1. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

New observations break the record for the most distant known source of oxygen

About 200 to 400 years after the Big Bang, the first stars began to appear in the universe and altered the chemical composition of the primitive galaxies. These earliest stars usually lie at such a great distance that it is impossible to spot them even with the most powerful telescopes. However, an international team of researchers have detected a very faint glow emitted by ionized oxygen in a distant galaxy. Researchers suggest that this signature of oxygen was emitted from a record-setting distance of 13.28 billion light-years from Earth or 500 million years after the Big Bang, which makes it the oldest source of oxygen ever detected by a telescope. The presence of this oxygen is a clear sign that the distant galaxy called MACS1149-JD1 must have harbored earliest generations of stars. Stars in the galaxy formed only 250 million years after the Big Bang.

Researchers made the discovery with the latest observations from Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) while the distance of the galaxy was confirmed by European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT).

"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!" Co-author Dr Nicolas Laporte from University College London (UCL), who led the VLT observing campaign, said.

Oxygen is only created in stars and then released into the gas clouds as they approach the final stage of their life cycle. There was no trace of oxygen right after the Big Bang. It possibly took several generations of star birth and death to fill the universe with basic elements such as oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.

“The mature stellar population in MACS1149-JD1 implies that stars were forming back to even earlier times, beyond what we can currently see with our telescopes. This has very exciting implications for finding 'cosmic dawn' when the first galaxies emerged.” Nicolas Laporte said.

ALMA has set the record for the most distant known source several times and it continues to improve our understanding of early universe and formation of galaxies.

Co-author Professor Richard Ellis from UCL says. "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.”

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