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Early stars created a sight yet unseen

Evidence could someday be detected by radio telescopes, study suggests

By
5:32pm, June 20, 2012

A 3-D simulation of the early universe suggests that the first stars left a cosmic signature large enough to be read by radio telescopes.

“It’s a new way to probe the universe when it was very young,” says Zoltan Haiman, a cosmologist at Columbia University, who was not involved in the new work. “We have very few ways to do that.”

Studying early star formation is challenging because the first galaxies were so small — and, because of the universe’s expansion, are now so distant — that even the most sensitive eyes in the sky can’t see them.

But the new simulation, described online June 20 in Nature, suggests that a stellar signature exists in the form of fluctuating radio waves, oscillations produced when young stars and nascent galaxies warm and excite surrounding hydrogen gas. The stars and galaxies in the period simulated, when the universe was 180 million years old, are distributed in a distinct, detectable pattern.

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