Oxygen presence in distant galaxy sheds light on early universe

Gravitational lensing.     NASA ESA & L. Calcada

The universe initially was devoid of elements such as oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, which were first created in the fusion furnaces of the earliest stars and then spewed into interstellar space when these stars reached their explosive deaths.

The distance to the galaxy determined from this observation is consistent with the distance from the oxygen observation.

The work of Takuya Hashimoto and his group at Osaka Sangyo University sheds light on the formation of the first stars and suggests that future telescopes - such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which will replace the Hubble 'scope in orbit starting in 2020 - could find new evidence on the formation of first-generation stars, Bouwens said.

A team of astronomers using high-precision optical instruments were able to explore the galaxy under the code name MACS1149-JD1, which is considered the most remote from Earth, finding in it the presence of oxygen. 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).

So now the latest such discovery was made by a team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array and European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope when observing the very distant galaxy MACS1149-JD1.

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Both facilities are located in Chile's Atacama desert. It took several millions of years before the first stars emerged.

"With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1 we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight!" said Richard Ellis, senior astronomer at UCL and co-author of the paper in a statement.

It is becoming apparent to many astronomers out there that space is so large and peculiar that any theory we happen to come up with on the origin of the universe is by no means a solidified fact.

One kind of supernova has shown scientists that we live in an expanding universe, one that is growing at an ever increasing rate.

Researchers think that the earliest stars in the Universe were built in areas with a very high density of matter, even though comprehension of this phenomenon is not yet well-defined.

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There are two known types of supernova.

The second type of supernova occurs at the end of a single star's lifetime.

Eventually, the core is so heavy it can't stand its own gravitational force and the core collapses, resulting in another giant explosion.

The team, led by astronomers at University College London in the United Kingdom and Osaka Sangyo University in Japan, detected a very faint glow emitted by ionized oxygen in MACS1149-JD1.

Bowens points out that it is still uncertain if the star activity observed in MACS1149-JD1 also took place in different parts of the early Universe but he claims that the finding "will certainly boost similar studies of other galaxies".

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