Ancient quasar may be remnants of early population III star • The Register
Scientists looking at the second most distant observed quasar believe it is actually the remains of one of the universe’s earliest stars — the so-called Population III stars that seeded the early universe with material that eventually formed life.
Working with the National Science Foundation’s Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, the team found evidence using a new method of estimating the various elements detected in near infrared spectrographs. The trace gases surrounding quasar ULAS J1342+0928 have an odd ratio between magnesium and iron, the team said:that could only be the result of one of the universe’s earliest stars going supernova, according to current theory.
If the methodology is correct, the team appears to have found a better way to search for distant first-generation stars and their remnants, as well as provide clues that could help “explain how matter in the universe evolved into what it is now, including people,” according to the NSF.
In the beginning there was no heavy metal
According to the big bang theory of cosmology, there wasn’t much around in the moments after the universe came into being – only hydrogen, helium and lithium emerged in the immediate aftermath of the origin of everything.
Elements heavier than helium probably didn’t form until stars formed about 100 million years after the Big Bang. Then some more waiting, because it wasn’t until those stars collapsed and went supernova that the heavy elements created in their cores were ejected into the void to further complicate the universe.
So the earliest stars – known as Population III – were probably composed of only hydrogen and helium. And they were gigantic – some hundreds of times bigger than our sun. However, they also burn out much faster.
But Pop III stars are purely theoretical and have never been observed — their mass means they would have collapsed into black holes and quasars long ago. Quasars just like ULAS J1342.
recent advances in cosmological simulations have led to attempts to predict the observability of Pop III star clusters, and ULAS J1342 is considered a strong contender, the research team argued in their newspaper.
Because Pop IIIs had to make the heavy metals they emit, the gas clouds surrounding their remains must transmit different wavelengths of light. Based on their observations, the team thinks the second-furthest observed quasar was a Pop III star that once had a mass 280 times greater than the Sun, and likely formed around 100 million years after the Big Bang – or about 13.6 billion years ago.
However, this isn’t a definitive verdict on the existence of Pop III stars — the team even included the word “potential” in the paper’s title. To see if the data holds up, the NSF said, many more observations are needed to see if similar features exist in other stellar objects.
Still, said co-author of the paper and astronomer Timothy Beers of the University of Notre Dame, “we now know what to look for.” The team’s research opens a path, Beers said, to a better understanding of where our star things may have started. ®
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