Spitzer telescope finds first objects burned furiously

Jun 07, 2012
Astronomers have uncovered patterns of light that appear to be from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. The light patterns were hidden within a strip of sky observed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

(Phys.org) -- The faint, lumpy glow given off by the very first objects in the universe may have been detected with the best precision yet, using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. These faint objects might be wildly massive stars or voracious black holes. They are too far away to be seen individually, but Spitzer has captured new, convincing evidence of what appears to be the collective pattern of their infrared light.

The observations help confirm the first objects were numerous in quantity and furiously burned cosmic fuel.

"These objects would have been tremendously bright," said Alexander "Sasha" Kashlinsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., lead author of a new paper appearing in The . "We can't yet directly rule out mysterious sources for this that could be coming from our , but it is now becoming increasingly likely that we are catching a glimpse of an ancient epoch. Spitzer is laying down a roadmap for NASA's upcoming James Webb Telescope, which will tell us exactly what and where these first objects were."

Spitzer first caught hints of this remote pattern of light, known as the cosmic infrared background, in 2005, and again with more precision in 2007. Now, Spitzer is in the extended phase of its mission, during which it performs more in-depth studies on specific patches of the sky. Kashlinsky and his colleagues used Spitzer to look at two patches of sky for more than 400 hours each.

The team then carefully subtracted all the known in the images. Rather than being left with a black, empty patch of sky, they found faint patterns of light with several telltale characteristics of the cosmic infrared background. The lumps in the pattern observed are consistent with the way the very distant objects are thought to be clustered together.

Kashlinsky likens the observations to looking for Fourth of July fireworks in New York City from Los Angeles. First, you would have to remove all the foreground lights between the two cities, as well as the blazing lights of New York City itself. You ultimately would be left with a fuzzy map of how the fireworks are distributed, but they would still be too distant to make out individually.

"We can gather clues from the light of the universe's first fireworks," said Kashlinsky. "This is teaching us that the sources, or the "sparks," are intensely burning their nuclear fuel."

The universe formed roughly 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery, explosive Big Bang. With time, it cooled and, by around 500 million years later, the first stars, galaxies and began to take shape. Astronomers say some of that "first light" might have traveled billions of years to reach the . The light would have originated at visible or even ultraviolet wavelengths and then, because of the expansion of the universe, stretched out to the longer, infrared wavelengths observed by Spitzer.

The new study improves on previous observations by measuring this cosmic infrared background out to scales equivalent to two full moons -- significantly larger than what was detected before. Imagine trying to find a pattern in the noise in an old-fashioned television set by looking at just a small piece of the screen. It would be hard to know for certain if a suspected pattern was real. By observing a larger section of the screen, you would be able to resolve both small- and large-scale patterns, further confirming your initial suspicion.

Likewise, astronomers using Spitzer have increased the amount of sky examined to obtain more definitive evidence of the cosmic infrared background. The researchers plan to explore more patches of sky in the future to gather more clues hidden in the light of this ancient era.

"This is one of the reasons we are building the James Webb ," said Glenn Wahlgren, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Spitzer is giving us tantalizing clues, but James Webb will tell us what really lies at the era where stars first ignited."

Other authors are Richard Arendt of Goddard and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County; Matt Ashby and Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.; and John Mather and Harvey Moseley of Goddard. Fazio led the initial observations of these sky fields.

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User comments : 18

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dtyarbrough
1.9 / 5 (13) Jun 07, 2012
Collect data for 400 hours. Toss out anything that doesn't fit your expectations and eureka ... The results are surprisingly close to what you were expecting to find. Amazing !!
210
3.9 / 5 (10) Jun 07, 2012
Collect data for 400 hours. Toss out anything that doesn't fit your expectations and eureka ... The results are surprisingly close to what you were expecting to find. Amazing !!

huh...? wha....what part did they fake or "throw out"?
Deathclock
4.1 / 5 (15) Jun 07, 2012
Collect data for 400 hours. Toss out anything that doesn't fit your expectations and eureka ... The results are surprisingly close to what you were expecting to find. Amazing !!

huh...? wha....what part did they fake or "throw out"?


"The team then carefully subtracted all the known stars and galaxies in the images."

Somehow dtyarbrough thinks this is a disingenuous thing... of course it isn't, but s/he is clearly a nut.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.6 / 5 (9) Jun 07, 2012
And never mind that this observation actually tests standard cosmology, instead of being a random fishing for data.
baudrunner
5 / 5 (3) Jun 08, 2012
Where the Universe was is now nothing, and the creation front at the periphery is too far away for us ever to see it happening. Misconstruence of the observations leads to false assumptions.
Origin
1 / 5 (6) Jun 08, 2012
These faint objects might be wildly massive stars or voracious black holes. They are too far away to be seen individually, but Spitzer has captured new, convincing evidence of what appears to be the collective pattern of their infrared light..
How the first stars can be ignited without galaxies? The Universe was formed in the very diluted state by the mainstream cosmology. Black holes can be formed from matter, which was concentrated already. We should realize, if the Universe was formed homogeneous, then its average density didn't differ very much from density of matter in the interstellar space inside of sparse galaxy. The speed of star formation is very low in such an areas. These models are all quite amazing, until you check their details.
baudrunner
5 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2012
Furthermore, removing objects from recorded images leaves..what?
Origin
1 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2012
Grey spots, as you can see at the article illustration.
SteveL
5 / 5 (5) Jun 08, 2012
This reminds me of something I've never really understood about modern cosmological theory: If we can detect 13 (plus) billion year old photons from the accepted beginning of the universe, and photons travel at the speed of light, the accepted universal speed limit; how did we physically get where we are, 13 (plus) billion light years away from the source before the photons got here?
Deathclock
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 08, 2012
This reminds me of something I've never really understood about modern cosmological theory: If we can detect 13 (plus) billion year old photons from the accepted beginning of the universe, and photons travel at the speed of light, the accepted universal speed limit; how did we physically get where we are, 13 (plus) billion light years away from the source before the photons got here?


Spacetime expansion immediately following the big bang. This also explains the frequency shift observed in the CMBR.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (5) Jun 08, 2012
how did we physically get where we are, 13 (plus) billion light years away from the source before the photons got here?


According to the theory, when the Universe expands, objects at rest get farther apart. It's not that the objects which are contained inside the Universe are expanding, it's the Universe itself which is getting bigger. One popular part of the theory says that there was a very rapid expansion very early, so that stationary objects would have appeared to be moving apart at greater than the speed of light, from the point of view of an outside observer (if an outside observer was possible).
Deathclock
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 08, 2012
how did we physically get where we are, 13 (plus) billion light years away from the source before the photons got here?


According to the theory, when the Universe expands, objects at rest get farther apart. It's not that the objects which are contained inside the Universe are expanding, it's the Universe itself which is getting bigger. One popular part of the theory says that there was a very rapid expansion very early, so that stationary objects would have appeared to be moving apart at greater than the speed of light, from the point of view of an outside observer (if an outside observer was possible).


Yes that is correct, thanks for expanding on my answer. (no pun intended)
Anda
not rated yet Jun 10, 2012
how did we physically get where we are, 13 (plus) billion light years away from the source before the photons got here?


According to the theory, when the Universe expands, objects at rest get farther apart. It's not that the objects which are contained inside the Universe are expanding, it's the Universe itself which is getting bigger. One popular part of the theory says that there was a very rapid expansion very early, so that stationary objects would have appeared to be moving apart at greater than the speed of light, from the point of view of an outside observer (if an outside observer was possible).


Just to point also that according to CURRENT accepted theory, the expansion of the universe itself is not limited by the speed of light, as matter is.

Hey "water ripples" (origin aka 100 other names), not talking of aether today? U sick? :)
Fleetfoot
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 11, 2012
The universe formed roughly 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery, explosive Big Bang. With time, it cooled and, by around 500 million years later, the first stars, galaxies and black holes began to take shape.


That section of the article is misleading, the first stars probably formed in less than 150 million years, perhaps as little as 30 million.

How the first stars can be ignited without galaxies? The Universe was formed in the very diluted state by the mainstream cosmology.


No, mainstream says it was homogenous and initially very dense but thinned as it expanded. Stars can form when local over-densities exceed the Jeans Mass and that could have happened before the first proto-galaxies started forming as groupings of stars.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2012
The universe formed roughly 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery, explosive Big Bang


That section of the article is misleading, the first stars probably formed in less than 150 million years, perhaps as little as 30 million


Also misleading because the "explosion" couldn't have been fiery. It took quite a while before the first atoms formed from the subatomic soup. There wasn't even light at first. The "fiery explosion" would have been dark. (according to the most popular theories) In fact, the use of the term "explosion" or "big bang" is only vaguely accurate, but it helps common people understand, at least in general.
SteveL
not rated yet Jun 11, 2012
From your descriptions I can only see two options:

1) In the past the universe had stretched or expanded at a rate faster than the speed of light and has since slown down to the point where photons believed to be from the dawn of the universe are finally catching up with us. But presently we are seeing the universe expand at an accelerating rate. This fast, slow & now accelerating rate would indicate to me a cyclic rate of universal expansion. Almost like a shock wave. I wonder, this change in universal expansion rate; how do we know the relative delta rates between the constant speed of light and the apparent variable expansion of the universe over the course of 13.7 billion years as a gauge for distances?

2) The universe is far older and larger than we can estimate. We have been judging the size and age based upon what we can detect, and our photon/energy based vision is apparently myopic. If this is the case, then these photons are merely from our edge of detectability.
Origin
1 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2012
Hey "water ripples" (origin aka 100 other names), not talking of aether today? U sick? :)
Nope, the boss is wandering...;-)
Regarding the Spitzer finding I don't understand, why the first objects should evolve faster at the beginning of Universe in Big Bang model, when its matter was in most diluted state. The dense aether model explains this observation instead with seeming compression of space-time along time dimension at distance. During scattering of ripples at the water surface the remote distances appears compressed from perspective of every local observer, which makes an impression, the time flows faster there. It means the distant galaxies evolved as slowly, as the local galaxies, but this evolution appears faster from our local perspective. So it seems for me, the latest Spitzer finding supports the dense aether model better - again.
Origin
1 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2012
The accelerated formation of distant objects was already considered in explanations of various observations of very distant galaxies (value of red shift z>=7), which would otherwise had no time for its formation. But I do perceive such an explanations very problematic instead. Why the matter should condense in highest speed just at the moment, when it was in hottest and most diluted state? Such an explanation has no meaning in context of Big Bang theory - the interstellar gas must be cold and very dense for to collapse into stars and galaxies fast, until some unknown mechanism is not considered.