Big Bang Ripples Formed Universe's First Stars

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The new model, described this week in the journal Science, traces the initial creation of these stellar firstborn based on the much simpler physics that existed in the early universe.

Back then there were only a few ingredients that could be used to create a star, and complicating factors such as stellar magnetic fields and energetic cosmic events did not yet exist.

Using supercomputers, Yoshida and colleagues were able to follow hydrogen and helium atoms and particles of dark matter through 200 million years of cosmic evolution.

When the simulation concluded, it had produced a churning knot of gas with a mass of just one percent that of our sun—the core of a first-generation star.

But the model stops short of simulating the moment the protostar achieves full nuclear fusion and transforms into a true star.

The physics involved in this next step is much more complicated and will require even more powerful computers to reproduce, the researchers say.

Cosmic Rosetta Stone

The new model is "very impressive work" that gives scientists a much more intimate view of the early stages of primeval star formation, commented Avi Loeb, who is also with the CfA but was not involved in the work.

"Previously what people did was stop the simulation when the gas was collecting within a scale of roughly the size of the solar system," Loeb said. "They were not able to zoom in on the central core."

Volker Bromm is an astrophysicist at the University of Texas, Austin, who wrote a review of the new work that also appears in Science.

Bromm called the new simulation a "cosmic Rosetta stone" that could help unlock the secrets of how modern stars form by providing a more detailed view of how stars took shape under much simpler conditions.

"It is like laying the foundation of a skyscraper," Bromm said.

(Related photo: "Colliding Galaxies Ignite Stellar Nurseries" [October 19, 2006].)

"In the simulations that we had before, we started at the first or second floor and we built a hundred-floor skyscraper. Now we can get in at the ground floor."

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