Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ESA on the trail of the earliest stars

27.01.2003


Somewhere in the distant, old Universe, a population of stars hide undetected. They were the first to form after the birth of the Universe and are supposed to be far bigger in mass than any star visible today.



Astronomers know they must have been out there: only in this way could they solve the riddle of the origin and composition of stars in today’s Universe. A couple of ESA missions will help astronomers search for this elusive population.

When the Universe formed, there was just hydrogen and helium. Chemical elements such as oxygen, carbon, iron and so on were forged later, in the nuclear furnaces at the hearts of stars and then cast into space at the end of the star’s life. Astronomers call everything that is heavier than helium a ’metal’. All stars we can observe today contain metals. The youngest contain the most metals and astronomers call them population I stars. The oldest contain only some metals and astronomers call these population II stars.


Where do these metals come from? Astronomers have theorised that a first generation of stars, which they call population III, must have existed in the early Universe. This first generation of stars must have formed using only hydrogen and helium, the only elements available in the early cosmic history. After living for ’just’ a million years, they extinguished themselves, showering the metals they had created into space. The heavy elements lay dormant until they were collected into the next generation of stars and the first galaxies, sometime later.

The theory of population III stars suggests they are long dead in the local Universe. How can their existence then be confirmed? In the most distant realms of space, where what we observe is either very old or even extinguished, some signs of their existence might still be glimpsed. One mission that will help considerably in the search is the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), ESA’s collaboration with NASA to replace the Hubble Space Telescope with a six-metre-class telescope. There are many questions for it to answer.

"We don’t really know what the first generation of stars are like and we don’t know where exactly they formed," says Peter Jakobsen, ESA’s Study Scientist for the JWST. "One of the biggest questions is whether the first stars formed in clumps or as isolated individuals. If they clumped, we’ll be able to see them much more easily and further away than if they didn’t." Even if JWST does not see the first stars directly, it will give astronomers an invaluable clue about how far away they are, allowing them to refine their theories. New research suggests that even if the population III stars are extremely far away, JWST would see them exploding as supernovae, at the ends of their individual lives.

In addition, some astronomers suspect that some gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are created by the death of these earliest stars. Ironically, we may therefore already be seeing the farewell detonation of some population III stars. ESA’s new gamma-ray observatory, Integral, is perfectly placed to shed light on these violent events. It will indirectly help provide clues about population III stars. "I suspect that in the next ten years, we’ll know the answers to at least some of our questions about what went on in the early Universe," says Jakobsen. This includes learning more about the existence and role of the earliest stars.

JWST

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a collaboration between ESA and NASA. It is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and, with a six-metre mirror, it will be almost three times the size of HST. Engineers have designed the JWST to work best at infrared wavelengths. This will allow it to study the very distant Universe, looking for the first stars and galaxies that ever emerged. Current plans call for its launch in 2010.

Integral

The International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral) is the first space observatory that can simultaneously observe celestial objects in gamma rays, X-rays, and visible light. Integral was launched on a Russian Proton rocket in October 2002 into a highly elliptical orbit around Earth. Its principal targets are powerful phenomena known as supernova explosions, regions of the Universe thought to contain black holes and violent explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. In particular, when a gamma-ray burst goes off in Integral’s field of view, an automatic alert is sent to the world’s ground-based observatories within 30 seconds. This allows for rapid follow-up observations that are needed to analyse these mysterious phenomena.

Peter Jakobsen | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/SEM99G1A6BD_Expanding_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Pulses of electrons manipulate nanomagnets and store information
21.07.2017 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion
21.07.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>