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December 20, 2006

First Matter? If So, Where Did It Come From?

Topics: General Science News
165396main_spitzer-firststars-20061218 resized.jpg

[Photo - NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC (via Mark Tapscott)

Mark Tapscott has a post up on NASA's incredible photos from the Spitzer telescope of what scientists believe to be the universe shortly after the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago. As Mark points out, if this photo does indeed show original matter shortly after the birth of the universe, the question arises - was the matter "there" before the Big Bang or did it come into existence via the Big Bang? The answer to this question has important implications.

However, not all astronomers believe it's "the real McCoy" - some doubt remains:

Since it was discovered a year ago, this light has stirred great controversy, sparking a debate about whether it could be the first light created in the universe or something much more mundane.

Now, astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope say they have improved on their initial evidence that it is indeed space's earliest glimmers.

"In the last year, we got hold of much deeper information covering more areas of the sky and much larger areas of the sky," said Alexander Kashlinsky, an astronomer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center.

He and his team believe they have detected the glow of very massive objects that first lit up 13 billion years ago.

These incredibly bright objects, Kashlinsky said, "had to be converting energy at ferocious rates. The only way they could do that would be if they were very massive stars that are nothing like the stars we see today, or they could have been black holes."

But despite his new images, skepticism persists.

"This is very exciting, but there are other more mundane.

explanations of the signal," said Caltech astronomer Richard Ellis. "It's just not convincing enough that these measurements are from these very early epochs."

Another team of scientists lead by UC Irvine astronomer Asantha Cooray found the same subtle glow of light, Ellis said, but they attribute it to dimly glowing galaxies only half as far away as the objects Kashlinsky has predicted.

What I've found most interesting about this event is Alexander Kashlinsky's ( NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md) intriguing comment that, "Whatever these objects are, they are intrinsically incredibly bright and very different from anything in existence today."

Here's an artist's rendition of a timeline chronicle of the history of the universe, from its explosive beginning to its mature, present-day state:

univglow2.jpg

So, are we looking at first matter or dimly lit galaxies? The James Webb Space Telescope just might give us the answer.

Cross posted from Hyscience

Posted by Richard at December 20, 2006 2:12 PM


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