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The Universe’s Stellar Baby Boom

By David Reneke

Dave Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Observations with the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) in northern Chile, which celebrated its inauguration on 13 March, show that the most vigorous bursts of star birth in the cosmos took place much earlier than previously thought.

The most intense bursts of star birth are thought to have occurred in the early universe in massive, bright galaxies. These starburst galaxies convert vast reservoirs of cosmic gas and dust into new stars at a furious pace – many hundreds of times faster than in stately spiral galaxies like our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

By looking at galaxies so distant that their light has taken billions of years to reach us, astronomers can observe this busy period in the universe’s youth. “The more distant the galaxy, the further back in time we’re looking, so by measuring their distances we can piece together a timeline of how vigorously the universe was making new stars at different stages of its 13.7 billion year history,” said Joaquin Vieira of the California Institute of Technology, who led an international team of researchers.

The team discovered these distant starburst galaxies and used ALMA to zoom in on them to explore the stellar baby boom in the young universe. On average, these bursts of star birth took place 12 billion years ago, when the universe was just under two billion years old – one billion years earlier than...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.