Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

First stars, galaxies formed more rapidly than expected

Date:
September 5, 2012
Source:
University of Chicago
Summary:
Analysis of data from the National Science Foundation's South Pole Telescope, for the first time, more precisely defines the period of cosmological evolution when the first stars and galaxies formed and gradually illuminated the universe.

The South Pole Telescope stands 75 feet tall in Antarctica’s clear, dry air. Members of the SPT collaboration have published two papers in the Astrophysical Journal presenting evidence that the first stars and galaxies formed more rapidly than previously believed.
Credit: Photo by Keith Vanderlinde

Analysis of data from the National Science Foundation’s South Pole Telescope, for the first time, more precisely defines the period of cosmological evolution when the first stars and galaxies formed and gradually illuminated the universe. The data indicate that this period, called the epoch of reionization, was shorter than theorists speculated — and that it ended early.

“We find that the epoch of reionization lasted less than 500 million years and began when the universe was at least 250 million years old,” said Oliver Zahn, a postdoctoral fellow at the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the study. “Before this measurement, scientists believed that reionization lasted 750 million years or longer, and had no evidence as to when reionization began.”

The findings by Zahn, his colleagues at UChicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and elsewhere have been published in a pair of papers appearing in the Sept. 1, 2012 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Their latest results are based on a new analysis that combines measurements taken by the South Pole Telescope at three frequencies, and extends these measurements to a larger area covering approximately 2 percent of the sky. The 10-meter South Pole Telescope operates at millimeter wavelengths to make high-resolution images of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the light left over from the big bang.

“Studying the epoch of reionization is important because it represents one of the few ways by which we can study the first stars and galaxies,” said study co-author John Carlstrom, the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Before the first stars formed, most matter in the universe took the form of neutral hydrogen atoms. The radiation from the first stars transformed the neutral gas into an electron-proton plasma. Observations with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite of polarized signals in the CMB indicate that this epoch occurred nearly 13 billion years ago, but these observations give no indication of when the epoch began or how long it lasted.

The first stars that formed were probably 30 to 300 times more massive than the sun and millions of times as bright, burning for only a few million years before exploding. The energetic ultraviolet light from these stars was capable of splitting hydrogen atoms back into electrons and protons, thus ionizing them.

Scientists believe that during reionization, the first galaxies to form ionized “bubbles” in the neutral gas surrounding them. Electrons in these bubbles would scatter with light particles from the cosmic microwave background. This would create small hot and cold spots in the CMB depending on whether a bubble is moving toward or away from Earth. A longer epoch of reionization would create more bubbles, leading to a larger signal in the CMB.

The epoch’s short duration indicates that reionization was more explosive than scientists had previously thought. It suggests that massive galaxies played a key role in reionization, because smaller galaxies would have formed much earlier. Rapid reionization also argues against many proposed astrophysical phenomena that would slow the process.

This is only the beginning of what astronomers expect to learn about reionization from the South Pole Telescope. The current results are based on only the first third of the telescope’s full survey. Additional work is under way to combine South Pole Telescope maps with ones made by the Herschel satellite to further increase sensitivity to the reionization signal.

“We expect to measure the duration of reionization to within 50 million years with the current survey,” said study co-author Christian Reichardt, a Berkeley astrophysicist. “With planned upgrades to the instrument, we hope to improve this even further in the next five years.”

The 280-ton South Pole Telescope stands 75 feet tall and is the largest astronomical telescope ever built in Antarctica’s clear, dry air. Sited at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole station at the geographic South Pole, it stands at an elevation of 9,300 feet on the polar plateau. Because of its location at the Earth’s axis, it can conduct long-term observations of a single patch of sky.

UChicago leads the South Pole Telescope collaboration, which includes research groups from Argonne National Laboratory, Cardiff University, Case Western Reserve University, Harvard University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, McGill University, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Davis, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Michigan and individual scientists at several other institutions.

The South Pole Telescope is primarily funded by the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. Partial support also is provided by the NSF-funded Physics Frontier Center of UChicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, the Kavli Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. O. Zahn, C. L. Reichardt, L. Shaw, A. Lidz, K. A. Aird, B. A. Benson, L. E. Bleem, J. E. Carlstrom, C. L. Chang, H. M. Cho, T. M. Crawford, A. T. Crites, T. de Haan, M. A. Dobbs, O. Dorι, J. Dudley, E. M. George, N. W. Halverson, G. P. Holder, W. L. Holzapfel, S. Hoover, Z. Hou, J. D. Hrubes, M. Joy, R. Keisler, L. Knox, A. T. Lee, E. M. Leitch, M. Lueker, D. Luong-Van, J. J. McMahon, J. Mehl, S. S. Meyer, M. Millea, J. J. Mohr, T. E. Montroy, T. Natoli, S. Padin, T. Plagge, C. Pryke, J. E. Ruhl, K. K. Schaffer, E. Shirokoff, H. G. Spieler, Z. Staniszewski, A. A. Stark, K. Story, A. van Engelen, K. Vanderlinde, J. D. Vieira, R. Williamson. Cosmic Microwave Background Constraints On the Duration and Timing of Reionization from the South Pole Telescope. The Astrophysical Journal, 2012; 756 (1): 65 DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/756/1/65

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago. "First stars, galaxies formed more rapidly than expected." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120905134832.htm>.
University of Chicago. (2012, September 5). First stars, galaxies formed more rapidly than expected. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120905134832.htm
University of Chicago. "First stars, galaxies formed more rapidly than expected." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120905134832.htm (accessed August 31, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) — Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) — The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Explosion of Galaxy Formation Lit Up Early Universe

Sep. 5, 2012 — The universe was dark until the first stars began to form, but really lit up once massive hydrogen clouds began birthing galaxies of stars. A study by researchers using data from the South Pole ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins