Light from a quasar shining through a cloud of gas that formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang is made up of elements that likely came from first-generation stars that began shining earlier than previously believed. Image: The Max Planck Society
Analysis of a 13-billion-year-old cloud of gas illuminated from behind by an ancient quasar shows a surprising abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, elements that were cooked up in massive first-generation stars that were born, lived out their short lives and died in supernova blasts even earlier than previously thought.
Using the Magellan telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, researchers studying the cloud’s chemical makeup found it was not as primitive as would be expected if it was made up of the same raw materials that were present when the first stars began shining in the wake of the Big Bang.
Even though it formed just 850 million years after the birth of the universe, the cloud’s makeup is similar to that of clouds that formed several billion years later.
“Apparently, the first generation of stars had already expired by the time the cloud formed,” said Carnegie’s Michael Rauch, co-author of a ...