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News Release 536 of 954

January 8, 2002 02:00 PM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2002-02

Stellar 'Fireworks Finale' Came First in the Young Universe

A Space Science Update Release

January 8, 2002: The deepest views of the cosmos from the Hubble Space Telescope yield clues that the very first stars may have burst into the universe as brilliantly and spectacularly as a fireworks finale. Except in this case, the finale came first, long before Earth, the Sun and the Milky Way Galaxy formed. Studies of Hubble's deepest views of the heavens lead to the preliminary conclusion that the universe made a significant portion of its stars in a torrential firestorm of star birth, which abruptly lit up the pitch-dark heavens just a few hundred million years after the "big bang," the tremendous explosion that created the cosmos. Though stars continue to be born today in galaxies, the star birth rate could be a trickle compared to the predicted gusher of stars in those opulent early years.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. How did astronomers reach this conclusion?


  2. Astronomers base their findings on a new analysis of galaxies in the Hubble deep fields taken near the north and south celestial poles (in 1995 and 1998, respectively). The deep fields are the orbiting observatory's farthest views of the heavens. The astronomers report that the farthest objects in the deep fields are only the "tip of the iceberg," concluding that 90 percent of the light from the early universe is missing in the two Hubble views. The missing light, the astronomers contend, would reveal an effervescent period of star birth that is unlike anything the universe will ever see again.

    Based on an analysis of galaxy colors, the astronomers determined that the farthest objects in the deep fields must be extremely intense, unexpectedly bright knots of blue-white, hot newborn stars embedded in primordial galaxies that are too faint to be seen even by Hubble's far vision. It's like seeing only the lights on a distant Christmas tree and inferring the presence of the whole tree.

 
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Science Credit: NASA and K. Lanzetta (SUNY)

Artwork Credit: A. Schaller for STScI