How the Stars Were Born

For the first time ever, scientists are taking an incredible journey to the dawn of the universe

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    If anything, that's an understatement. The first galaxies to emerge from the blackness of the early universe can't be studied in detail until telescope technology makes another great leap. But Ellis and Stark may have got a glimpse--and given theorists the first hard evidence--of that unimaginably distant time when the cosmos left infancy behind and entered the formative childhood that led, eventually, to our sun and the tiny blue planet that circles it. [This article contains a complex diagram. Please see hardcopy of magazine.] Illuminating a Dark Age How the universe grew from a murky soup to twinkling galaxies Looking for the beginning of time . . .

    About 13.7 billion years ago, the universe burst into existence, creating everything it is now

    ...13.7 billion years later

    Albert Einstein suggested that gravity from a massive foreground object could distort and magnify background objects.

    By looking through a cluster of galaxies, astronomers have now found the magnified images of much more distant galaxies

    Big Bang

    Inflation era

    Billions of years since the start of the universe 0 Gravity slows the expansion of the universe 1 2 3 4 5 6 Dark energy speeds the expansion of the universe

    Light from a distant object

    Light from a distant object 7 8 9 10 Galaxy cluster

    Gravitational lens

    Present time 11 12 13

    View from the observatory What they're really seeing

    A team of astrophysicists using the Keck and Hubble telescopes has found distant galaxies warped into odd, elongated shapes, as though they were being glimpsed through a cosmic fun-house mirror. The light from those galaxies ordinarily could never be detected through existing telescopes

    In the beginning . . . Half a million years after the Big Bang, the cosmos went dark. Two hundred million years later, baby galaxies began to shine. What happened in between laid the foundations for the modern universe

    Inside the Dark Era

    1 THE DARK AGES BEGIN When the cosmos was about 400,000 years old, it had cooled to about the temperature of the surface of the sun, allowing subatomic particles to combine for the first time into atoms. The last burst of light from the Big Bang shone forth at that time; it is still detectable today in the form of a faint whisper of microwaves streaming from all directions in space. The discovery of those microwaves in 1964 confirmed the existence of the Big Bang

    2 DARK MATTER Accounting for a bigger portion of matter than ordinary atoms, dark-matter particles were spread unevenly through the cosmos; areas of higher concentration drew in hydrogen and helium gas, gradually forming the first stars dense enough to burst into thermonuclear flame 3 FIRST STARS The earliest stars were massive, weighing in at 20 to more than 100 times the mass of the sun. The crushing pressures at their cores made them burn through their nuclear fuel in only a million years or so and caused them to spew radiation so intense that it kept other stars from forming. The first "galaxies" might have consisted of clouds of hydrogen and helium surrounding just one mega-star

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