Within the galaxy, the team was surprised to discover faint signals of ionized oxygen that were emitted nearly 13.3 billion years ago (or 500 million years after the Big Bang). Previously, astronomers due to limitations in technology only researched lights in the MACS1149-JD1, but with the help of high-precision telescopes, they were able to prove that the most remote from Earth, the galaxy, there are traces of oxygen.
The study conducted by Takuya Hashimoto and his staff from the Osaka Sangyo University provides insight into the formation process of early stars and also indicates that upcoming space telescopes like the James Webb, that will substitute Hubble in orbit in early 2020, are likely to provide new insights into early star formation, says Bouwens.
Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) have captured the evidence on star formation in the very distant galaxy MACS1149-JD1 suggesting that the formation started at an unexpectedly early stage, only 250 million years after the Big Bang.
"This galaxy is seen at a time when the universe was only 500m years old and yet it already has a population of mature stars", said Nicolas Laporte, a researcher at University College London in the United Kingdom and second author of the new paper.
The cloud of dust and gas left over from the Big Bang would have been mostly hydrogen in the early days, but supernovae from the deaths of the first stars would have spread elements like oxygen, carbon and nitrogen.
But when did this earlier star formation occur? It would have taken several cycles of star-birth and supernova explosions for there to be enough oxygen to be detected by our instruments today, considering the fact that the oldest stars - called Population III stars - had extremely short lifespans of about 2 million years only. To find out, the team reconstructed the earlier history of MACS1149-JD1 using infrared data taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.
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The maturity of the stars seen in MACS1149-JD1 raises the question of when the very first galaxies emerged from the total darkness, an epoch of astronomers romantically term "cosmic dawn".
"With MACS1149-JD1, we have managed to probe history beyond the limits of when we can actually detect galaxies with current facilities".
"Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the Holy Grail of cosmology and galaxy formation", said co-author Richard Ellis, an astronomer at University College London, in a press release.
"There is renewed optimism we are getting closer and closer to witnessing directly the birth of starlight. Since we are all made of a processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins". "It is truly remarkable that ALMA detected an emission line - the fingerprint of a particular element - at such a record-breaking distance". Measuring that shift in frequencies reveals that the light set out 13.3 billion years ago, when the universe was just 550 million years old.
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