Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

Hubble Telescope makes surprising discovery about the first stars

4 min read

NASA and ESA find evidence that the first stars and galaxies formed much earlier than researchers thought, beyond the reach of the Hubble Space Telescope

  • Hubble can see the universe back to within 500 million years of the Big Bang
  • Experts used the telescope to determine the age of the first stars and galaxies
  • The team looked back 500 million years to one billion after the Big Bang
  • However, no evidence of the Population III stars was found by the telescope 
  • This suggests that the first stars and galaxies formed much earlier than believed
  • The James Webb Space Telescope will soon study the earliest galaxies

NASA and the European Space Agency have discovered evidence that suggests the formation of the first stars and galaxies occurred earlier than previously believed.

The new findings were uncovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, which astronomers used to study the first generation of stars, known as Population III stars, in the early universe.

The team probed the early universe from about 500 million to one billion years following the Big Bang by studying the cluster MACS J0416, which is about four billion light-years from Earth, and its parallel field with the Hubble.

Rachana Bhatawdekar of the ESA and lead of the study said: ‘We found no evidence of these first-generation Population III stars in this cosmic time interval.’

This conclusion means these stars and the first galaxies are much older, as they could not be identified by the Hubble.

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The new findings were uncovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, which astronomers used to study the first generation of stars in the early universe known as Population III stars. Pictured is an artistic impression of the early universe

The discovery was achieved using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Population III stars formed from the primordial material that emerged from the Big Bang and experts say they were made of hydrogen, helium and lithium.

This is because heavier elements, such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and iron, developed in the cores of these stars and those that formed after them.

Bhatawdekar and her team used a new technique that removes the light from the bright foreground galaxies that constitute these gravitational lenses. 

The team probed the early universe from about 500 million to one billion years following the Big Bang by studying the cluster MACS J0416 (pictured), which is about four billion light-years from Earth, and its parallel field with the Hubble

Rachana Bhatawdekar of the ESA and lead of the study said: ‘We found no evidence of these first-generation Population III stars in this cosmic time interval.’ This conclusion means these stars and the first galaxies are much older, as they could not be identified by the Hubble (pictured)

This has allowed them to observe galaxies with lower masses and at a distance that corresponds to when the universe was less than a billion years old.  

‘At this point in cosmic time, the lack of evidence for exotic stellar populations and the identification of many low-mass galaxies supports the suggestion that these galaxies are the most likely candidates for the reionization of the universe, NASA shared in a statement.

‘This period of reionization in the early universe is when the neutral intergalactic medium was ionized by the first stars and galaxies.’

‘These results have profound astrophysical consequences as they show that galaxies must have formed much earlier than we thought,’ said Bhatawdekar. 

The findings also imply that the stars and galaxies formed earlier than the Hubble Telescope is capable of detecting. The team notes that the results provide future research for the James Webb Space Telescope (pictured) to study the universe’s earliest galaxies

‘This also strongly supports the idea that low-mass/faint galaxies in the early universe are responsible for reionization.’

The findings also imply that the stars and galaxies  formed earlier than the Hubble Telescope is capable of detecting.

The team notes that the results provide future research for the new  NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope — to study the universe’s earliest galaxies.

NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is still working and has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.

He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant. 

The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)

Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.

Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles (320km) away.

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.

Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope. 

Thanks to five servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same. 

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