Massive stars lit up the early universe

An artist’s impression of some of the first stars in the early Universe (Image: Shantanu Basu, University of Western Ontario)

After the Big Bang, it took several hundred million years for all the hydrogen and helium and some other gases floating around to start to coalesce into the first stars to light up the universe. New research shows these ancient suns would have clustered together to form extraordinarily bright groupings of stars.

A pair of researchers at the University of Western Ontario calculated that these star groupings may have been as luminous as 100 million suns at certain times, the cosmic equivalent of a truly fantastic searchlight.

These bright periods likely would have occurred during the stars' formation when, as "protostars," they were still pulling in gas and clumps of material, causing intermittent bursts of brightness. According to a simulation setup by the researchers, a cluster of just 16 protostars could generate temporary levels of brightness between 1,000 and 100 million times brighter than our sun.

These early stars burned remarkably bright, but also died young, leaving behind the first heavy elements, including those that have become the building blocks of life as we know it here on Earth, namely carbon and oxygen.

The researchers say while the light from these early protostar groups was difficult to spot after making its 13 billion-year journey to us, such observations may become easier with the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in just a few years.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Top stories

Recommended for you

Latest in Space

Editors Choice