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Cosmic dawn: Astronomers find fingerprints of universe's first stars

By Mike Wall
March 01, 2018, 10:15:38 AM EST

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An artist's illustration of what the first stars in the universe may have looked like. (Photo/N.R. Fuller, National Science Foundation)

The cosmic dark ages lasted no more than 180 million years.

Astronomers have picked up a long-sought signal from some of the universe's first stars, determining that these pioneers were burning bright by just 180 million years after the Big Bang.

Scientists had long suspected that dawn broke over the cosmos that long ago; theorists' models predict as much. But researchers had never had the evidence to back it up until now. Before this new study, the oldest stars ever seen dated to about 400 million years after the Big Bang.

"This pushes our knowledge of when and how stars formed to earlier times in the universe," said study lead author Judd Bowman, an astronomer at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration.

These very ancient stars were trailblazers. Though they coalesced from primordial hydrogen and helium, they set in motion a continuing process of star birth and death that ended up, over the eons, seeding the universe with heavy elements — the stuff that rocky planets like Earth are made of.

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