Astronomers say they have spotted the universe’s first stars

By | January 31, 2023

Jonathan O’Callaghan writes:

A group of astronomers poring over data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has glimpsed light from ionized helium in a distant galaxy, which could indicate the presence of the universe’s very first generation of stars.

These long-sought, inaptly named “Population III” stars would have been ginormous balls of hydrogen and helium sculpted from the universe’s primordial gas. Theorists started imagining these first fireballs in the 1970s, hypothesizing that, after short lifetimes, they exploded as supernovas, forging heavier elements and spewing them into the cosmos. That star stuff later gave rise to Population II stars more abundant in heavy elements, then even richer Population I stars like our sun, as well as planets, asteroids, comets and eventually life itself.

“We exist, therefore we know there must have been a first generation of stars,” said Rebecca Bowler, an astronomer at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

Now Xin Wang, an astronomer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and his colleagues think they’ve found them. “It’s really surreal,” Wang said. Confirmation is still needed; the team’s paper, posted on the preprint server on December 8, is awaiting peer review at Nature. [Continue reading…]

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