The First Stars Were Born Later Than Previously Estimated

Reading astronomy news always humbles me–makes me realize time and again my place in an enormous universe, the size of which is just unthinkable by my little human mind. This week I came across an article detailing the findings of Planck, the European telescope. It re-estimated the time, and the scientists seem to agree on this new number, the time of formation of the earliest stars in our universe. I was sort of lost in the science and the dazed by the timelines. 560 million years after Big Bang, which happened about 13.8 billion years ago? Can you even think about the ancientness of it all? I have to be honest–it sort of stuns me.

Anyway, thought of sharing some tidbits of Planck’s findings today. Here goes–

Observations made by the European telescope Planck has “effectively solved the conflict” regarding the dates of the earliest star formations. Previously, the American satellite WMAP, which operated in the 2000s, made an estimate for the peak of re-ionisation at 420 million years after the Big Bang. That re-ionisation would have been possible due to the first star formations.

There was a problem with that number though–the observations the Hubble Space Telescope observations of the early Universe contradicted that assumption. Hubble could not find enough stars and galaxies  that could lead to that scale of environmental change at the 420 million years mark.

Planck’s new timing, which is set at 560 million years after the Big Bang, “effectively solves the conflict,” said Prof Richard McMahon from Cambridge University, UK. “We had two groups of astronomers who were basically working on different sides of the problem. The Planck people came at it from the Big Bang side, while those of us who work on galaxies came at it from the ‘now side’. It’s like a bridge being built over a river. The two sides do now join where previously we had a gap,” he told BBC News.

More from

The first stars and large-scale structure in our universe formed much later than previously thought, according to the latest maps and data from the European Space Agency’s Planck telescope, which has been scrutinizing the polarized fossil light from the early universe. Planck’s new timeline pinpoints when star formation began in the nascent universe. This signalled the end of the cosmic “dark ages” and knowing when it occurred will help improve our understanding of the earliest epochs of the universe.

. . .

Marco Bersanelli of Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy. “Planck’s observations of the CMB polarization now tell us that these ‘dark ages’ ended some 550 million years after the Big Bang – more than 100 million years later than previously thought,” he adds, explaining that, while 100 million years may seem negligible compared to the universe’s age of almost 14 billion years, the timescale has a large impact when it comes to the formation of the first stars.

Link to the full article on

A few portraits of our galaxy, as captured by Planck.

A portrait of our Milky Way galaxy shows a mishmash of gas, charged particles and several types of dust. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

The red colors making up this map show light coming from the thermal glow of dust throughout our galaxy. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

This captures a type of radiation called synchrotron, which occurs when fast-moving electrons, spat out of supernovae and other energetic phenomena, are captured in the galaxy’s magnetic field, spiraling along them near the speed of light. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

The interaction between interstellar dust in the Milky Way and the structure of our Galaxy’s magnetic field, as detected by ESA’s Planck satellite over the entire sky. Planck scanned the sky to detect the most ancient light in the history of the universe — the cosmic microwave background. It also detected significant foreground emission from diffuse material in our Galaxy which is extremely important for studying the birth of stars and other phenomena in the Milky Way. Image credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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Posted in interesting stuffs, science news

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