Friday, December 22, 2006

Universe's first objects possibly seen
December 19, 2006
By Robert Roy Britt

( -- Astronomers might have seen the very first stars in the universe. If so, these are incredible stars, some 1,000 times as massive as the sun.

The alternative is just as interesting: The objects might be early black holes consuming gas voraciously and spitting out radiation like crazy as nascent galaxies form.

The observations, by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, were first reported on a preliminary basis in November 2005 in the journal Nature. A new analysis was announced Monday.

"We are pushing our telescopes to the limit and are tantalizingly close to getting a clear picture of the very first collections of objects," said Alexander Kashlinsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author on two reports to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "Whatever these objects are, they are intrinsically incredibly bright and very different from anything in existence today."

The light comes from objects that are more than 13 billion light-years away. That means the light began its journey more than 13 billion years ago. The universe is just a smidgeon older, at 13.7 billion years, and astronomers are pretty sure it took a few hundred million years for the matter of the Big Bang to spread out enough, and cool, to allow the first stars to form.
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