The First Stars in the Universe; December 2001; Scientific American Magazine; by Richard B. Larson and Volker Bromm; 8 Page(s)
WE LIVE IN A UNIVERSE that is full of bright objects. On a clear night one can see thousands of stars with the naked eye. These stars occupy merely a small nearby part of the Milky Way galaxy; telescopes reveal a much vaster realm that shines with the light from billions of galaxies. According to our current understanding of cosmology, however, the universe was featureless and dark for a long stretch of its early history. The first stars did not appear until perhaps 100 million years after the big bang, and nearly a billion years passed before galaxies proliferated across the cosmos. Astronomers have long wondered: How did this dramatic transition from darkness to light come about?
After decades of study, researchers have recently made great strides toward answering this question. Using sophisticated computer simulation techniques, cosmologists have devised models that show how the density fluctuations left over from the big bang could have evolved into the first stars. In addition, observations of distant quasars have allowed scientists to probe back in time and catch a glimpse of the final days of the "cosmic dark ages."