New observations suggest that in the early universe there were stars that were a thousand times more massive than our sun. But research is difficult.
GENEVA – About 100 million years after the Big Bang, the first stars appeared in the universe. There are now around 70 trillion stars in the visible part of the universe that can easily be mistaken for other light objects. Astronomers explore the stars with the help of electronic cameras, radio antennas and giant telescopes and can thus also draw conclusions about old stars in the early universe. Recent research has now led to surprising results: Some old stars are said to have been much larger than the specimens we see in the night sky today.
|Stars||Massive, self-luminous celestial bodies|
|Composition||Plasma and hot gas|
|Lifetime||About 50 million years ago|
Research on the early universe: stars are usually significantly smaller than the Sun
Not all stars are the same size, and the circumference of individual stars can change over time – many inflate towards the end of their lives and become huge as a result. This is currently the case, for example, with the star Betelgeuse, which may be on the verge of a supernova. In the process, the dying star briefly lights up brightly due to an explosion. However, new findings suggest that earlier stars were real colossi even during their lifetimes.
With special telescopes, stars can be detected and studied by researchers. © Wirestock/imago
Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland evaluated images from the James Webb Space Telescope that suggest that individual stars consisted of masses of up to 10,000 suns shortly after their formation. "Thanks to the data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope, we now believe we have found the first clue to the existence of these extraordinary stars," explains astrophysicist Corinne Charbonnel in a statement from the University of Geneva.
Astronomers consider stars from early universe to be fossils
Astronomers consider so-called globular clusters to be fossils of the early universe. Above all, their chemical composition is of interest to the experts: it varies from star to star and is difficult to explain: an accumulation of helium, nitrogen and sodium as well as residues of carbon and oxygen. Most of today's stars consist of 99 percent hydrogen and helium in the form of hot plasma. The core of old stars may have been much hotter, according to the experts.
Research of stars from the early universe complicated: "only indirect traces"
However, research is difficult. "Globular clusters are between 10 and 13 billion years old, while the maximum lifetime of superstars is two million years," says Mark Gieles, an astronomer at the University of Barcelona. "Only indirect traces remain." Nevertheless, the previous findings of the research work, which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, will be further investigated. The researchers hope to collect more data on early galaxies to identify earlier stars. This, in turn, could help solve other mysteries – such as how supermassive black holes formed in the early universe and what the first stars in the universe looked like.
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Researchers have only recently succeeded for the first time in capturing a black hole that is about to launch a jet of matter into space. When a star gets too close to a black hole, it is attracted to its gravity and torn apart – this is currently the case with the "Scary Barbie" event, in which a star has been destroyed by a black hole for 800 days. (tt)