Stars may have started to form just 250 million years after the big bang, according to new research from an international team of astronomers. This would place the first stellar formations at just two percent of the present age of the Universe.
Astronomers also found evidence of the oldest oxygen ever recorded, created just 500 million years after the formation of the Cosmos. This element, like all other elements other than hydrogen, helium, and lithium, is created in the death throes of massive stars. This means that at least one generation of stars must have been formed and destroyed even at that early stage of the evolution of the Universe.
“This galaxy is seen at a time when the Universe was only 500 million years old and yet it already has a population of mature stars. We are therefore able to use this galaxy to probe into an earlier, completely uncharted period of cosmic history,” said Nicolas Laporte, a researcher at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom.
Astronomers made the discoveries while studying one of the oldest galaxies known, called MACS1149-JD1. This family of stars is seen 13.28 billion light years away from the Earth.
By modelling the brightness of the galaxy, researchers found the presence of oxygen could best be explained of star formation started 250 million years after the formation of the Universe. In order to create this model, astronomers utilized infrared data obtained by the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes.
The discovery, made at the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile, was confirmed by astronomers at the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory.