Scientists Now Know When the First Stars Formed in the Universe

Signals from the first stars in the universe have been found - and they could finally unlock the secrets of dark matter
Scientists Detect Radio Waves From the Universe's Oldest Stars
Author

04 March, 2018

Some of that gas then coalesced into stars that began to turn on and light up, affecting the surrounding hydrogen gas and producing a telltale signature.

The tiny sounds are of natural hydrogen from around 200 million years after the Big Bang - so more than 13 billion years old.

To detect this extremely small signal from the universe's younger days, Rogers and his colleagues used an instrument with a radio antenna located in a remote, "radio quiet" desert in Western Australia, far from any cities, radio or TV stations, or cell phone networks.

At this time (180 million years after the Big Bang) the early universe was expanding, but the densest regions of the universe were collapsing under gravity to make the first stars.

The analysis also suggests that the dark matter is colder than expected, and opens the exciting possibility of using "21-centimetre cosmology" as a new probe of dark matter in the Universe.

Although researchers are still uncertain as to why and how the universe was cold, some scientists believe that dark matter interactions may have contributed to the temperature of the primordial universe. As Loeb notes, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Dr. Bowman agreed independent tests are needed even though his team spent two years double- and triple-checking their work.

"We wouldn't have a detection from EDGES to report without the support of CSIRO", Bowman said. "It's unlikely we'll be able to see any earlier into the history of stars in our lifetime".

This is nothing that astronomers could actually see. "This is the first real signal that stars are starting to form, and starting to affect the medium around them".

Astronomers looked at a specific wavelength. This transition is known as the cosmic dawn (see "Dawn's early light").

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"These stars made the seeds for everything that came out of them", Bowman said. The important detection was found among sources of noise that can be a thousand times louder than the actual signal, which Peter Kurczynski, from the United States government's National Science Foundation likened to "being in the middle of a hurricane and trying to hear the flap of a hummingbird's wing".

"Finding the impact of the first stars in that cacophony would be like trying to hear the flap of a hummingbird's wing from inside a hurricane", Dr. Kurczynski said in an NSF video.

Using radio antennas no bigger than a hotel fridge, a small team of astronomers managed to glimpse into the dawn of time, and they published their findings just yesterday. "What happens during this period is that part of the radiation from the very first stars begins to allow the hydrogen to be seen, causing the absorption of background radiation".

Larger radio arrays are continuing the search and are expected to build beyond the initial EDGES findings to gain far greater insight into the earliest stars and galaxies.

Astronomers with the Experiment to Detect the Global EoR (Epoch of Reionization) Signature (EDGES) project reported today (Feb. 28) that they've spotted the apparent fingerprints of the universe's first stars. But now that astronomers know where and how to look, others will confirm this and learn more, Bowman said.

After the Big Bang, the Universe cooled and went dark for millions of years.

This suggests that either astrophysicists' theoretical efforts have overlooked something significant or that this may be the first evidence of non-standard physics: Specifically, that baryons (normal matter) may have interacted with dark matter and slowly lost energy to dark matter in the early universe, a concept that was originally proposed by Rennan Barkana of Tel Aviv University. "This is the best explanation we have at the moment and it is very exciting if it holds".

What seems likely is dark matter - which scientists have never seen interacting with anything - may be cooling that hydrogen, he said.

After that auspicious explosion at the beginning of time, the universe was dark and boring.

When the theory was first established, experts said dark matter consisted of hypothetical particles called axions. The results suggest that the primordial Universe must have been twice as cold as previously thought - a very brisk -454° F (-270° C). "This therefore is about as important as you can get in cosmology".


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