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Newfound gas cloud may be graveyard of first stars

Scarcity of heavy elements points to universe’s earliest stellar inhabitants

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5:03pm, January 8, 2016
star explosion simulation

ELEMENTAL DIVERSITY  Explosions of first-generation stars (one simulated here) produced elements heavier than helium and spread them throughout the cosmos. A newly discovered gas cloud may hold the signature of these ancient explosions. The densest gas in this explosion is shown in red.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A newly discovered gas cloud contains hydrogen and helium but virtually nothing else. The scarcity of heavier elements suggests that the cloud houses the remains of the universe’s first stars, John O’Meara reported January 8 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Scientists want to learn more about these ancient stars, which have never been observed directly, because they injected the first doses of carbon, oxygen and other crucial elements into the cosmos.

First-generation stars, forged from pristine hydrogen and helium gas produced just minutes after the Big Bang, burst onto the scene about 13.4 billion years ago. Astronomers don’t yet have the ability to see objects from that long ago.

O’Meara, an astronomer at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., and colleagues looked at the next best thing by probing a roughly 12-billion-year-old gas

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