With the help of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers were able to gaze deeply into the galaxy known as MACS1149-JD1 and have discovered the most distant oxygen ever found in space, along with stars that were created a mere 250 million years after the Big Bang.
Astronomers first detected ionized oxygen traveling through space in the form of a dim glow, and by the time it was captured by ALMA it had been traveling for 13.3 billion years, making it the most distant oxygen that has ever been discovered so far in space, as Science Daily reported.
As Takuya Hashimoto, head author of the new research on galaxy MACS1149-JD1 explained, the presence of oxygen so far out in space has opened up a whole new vista for astronomers.
“I was thrilled to see the signal of the distant oxygen in the ALMA data. This detection pushes back the frontiers of the observable Universe.”
Besides the dim glow that was detected by ALMA, ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) was also able to zero in on a signal that clearly showed emissions of hydrogen, albeit extremely faint ones.
University College London’s Nicolas Laporte noted that observations made in the galaxy of MACS1149-JD1 show it as it would have been when it was still in its infancy at just 500-million-years-old.
“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.”
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For a stretch of time after the Big Bang occurred, there was no oxygen to be found anywhere in the universe. Instead, oxygen came about after the creation of the first stars in space and once these stars died it was unleashed.
Therefore, the presence of oxygen seen in galaxy MACS1149-JD1 shows that an earlier generation of stars had already been created, with oxygen released 500 million years after the Big Bang.
To accurately determine when these early stars first came into being, astronomers examined infrared data from NASA Spitzer Space Telescope along with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and learned that the stars were created 250 million years after the Big Bang.
Co-author of the new study Richard Ellis explained how marvelous it was to be able to learn more about the very birth of such stars.
“Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the Holy Grail of cosmology and galaxy formation. With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1 we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight! Since we are all made of processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins.”
The new study on the creation of stars 250 million years after the Big Bang and the most distant oxygen ever discovered in space can be read in the journal Nature.