Scientists Detect Radio Waves From the Universe's Oldest Stars

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - 6:44PM
Space
Astronomy
Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - 6:44PM
Scientists Detect Radio Waves From the Universe's Oldest Stars
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N.R.Fuller, National Science Foundation
It's not possible to get a good look at the Big Bang.

While telescopes can be used to see millions of years into the past, thanks to the amount of time it takes for distant light to reach our planet, there's a limit to how far back we can see with the technology we currently possess. We can get visual proof of all kinds of things in universe's history, but seeing the very first stars ever created? That's currently impossible, as we just can't see them.

We can now, however, hear them. It's not hearing in the traditional sense, but what we have are faint radio waves that are now reaching us from 13.6 billion years ago, which seem to hint at the very first time stars lit up in our universe.



It's been hard to pinpoint exactly when the first stars lit up, because, again, we can't see that far back with our telescopes, but thanks to a blip in radio signals, we're now able to figure out when exactly a large swathe of ultraviolet light flushed through the universe as the stars were first born.

This signal wasn't easy to detect, considering that it's a single channel of background noise in a universe that's filled with other distractions. It took a team of scientists years of work, as they monitored signals using an antenna set up in the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the middle of the Australian desert.

The signal not only tells us when stars first formed, but it also gives us some indication as to what kind of stars these were - when the scientists eventually found what they were looking for, they noticed that the ultraviolet burst was larger than expected, suggesting that the stars may have been made from hydrogen gas that was colder than expected.




This has yet to be definitively proven, and follow-up research is certainly going to be needed to prove exactly what kind of stars first ushered in the creation of the universe as we know it, but considering the fact that we're not going to get any photos of the Big Bang any time soon, this research is still a groundbreaking discovery that will shape the course of astrophysics for years to come.

After all, it's always fun when things don't happen in science the way we expect. The additional ultraviolet light suggests that our current models of the Big Bang are incorrect in some way, and that means that we've got something new to learn about how our reality universe when it was in its infancy.

As with all good discoveries, observing the earliest stars in the universe has now given us new knowledge to strive for, meaning that we've still got a long way to go before we truly understand how our own existence began.
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