October 23, 2021

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Dark stars: The first stars in the universe

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All About Space

All About Space issue 117

(Image credit: Future)

This article is brought to you by All About Space.

All About Space magazine takes you on an awe-inspiring journey through our solar system and beyond, from the amazing technology and spacecraft that enables humanity to venture into orbit, to the complexities of space science.

A star dies. A sudden flash of light signifies the end in a supernova explosion. This, however, is only part of the life cycle of stars, as the rich materials created during the death throes of the star are ejected into space by the supernova

When the next generation of stars form, they sweep up the leftovers of the supernova, accreting the metals that the dying star produced — metals being the term that astronomers use for anything heavier than hydrogen and helium. Metals are important; without them, the disc of gas and dust surrounding a newly forming star could not create rocky planets. But if new stars recycle the metals produced in the deaths of old stars, what did the very first stars do?

The universe began with the Big Bang, which created the gases hydrogen and helium, trace amounts of lithium and perhaps beryllium as well. Matter began to clump together, pulling in ever more material through gravitational attraction. It may have been dark matter — the mysterious substance that has yet to be directly detected — that began to accumulate first. This then drew in the ordinary matter, the stuff we can see, such as hydrogen and helium. Together the dark and ordinary matter created what is known as a ‘minihalo’, although the name is somewhat misleading, as minihalos had masses around a million times that of our sun.

Where did the very first stars come from? (Image credit: Tobias Roetsch)

It was in the mini halos that the first stars were born 200 million years after the Big Bang. 

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