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Observations of the most distant galaxy ever identified revealed traces of oxygen from at least one previous generation of stars, a sign that star formation got off to an early start.
To observe the earliest stages of star formation, astronomers combined the power of a natural magnifying glass in space, through a process called graviational lensing, with the human-built Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the European Space Agency's Very Large Telescope (VLT), both in Chile. Turning them toward the galaxy MACS1149-JD1, they observed the guts of the first stars, in the form of oxygen.
Galaxies - Thanks - Lensing - Effect - Intervening
"Usually, distant galaxies are very faint, but thanks to the gravitational lensing effect [light bending around an intervening galaxy], our target was bright," Takuya Hashimoto, an astronomer at Osaka Sangyo University and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, told Space.com. Hashimoto, the lead author on the new research, presented the results at the semiannual winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle in January.
"This is one of the earliest star-formation events found in the universe," Hashimoto said.
Stars - Hydrogen - Element - Right - Big
The first stars formed primarily from hydrogen, the element that dominated the universe right after the Big Bang. Like their descendants, these stars were element-making machines, building new elements in their hearts as temperatures and pressures increased. When these stars exploded, after only a short lifetime, they scattered the newborn elements into the space around them, allowing the next generation of stars to incorporate that gas and dust.
Hashimoto and his colleagues have pushed the boundaries of how far back ALMA can look. In 2016, a team led by Akio Inoue at Osaka Sangyo University in Japan used ALMA to find a signal of oxygen emitted 13.1 billion years ago. Only a few months later, Nicolas Laporte of University College London used the telescope to detect oxygen from 100 million years...
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