The First Galaxies in the Universe

The First Galaxies in the Universe

The First Galaxies in the Universe

The First Galaxies in the Universe


This book provides a comprehensive, self-contained introduction to one of the most exciting frontiers in astrophysics today: the quest to understand how the oldest and most distant galaxies in our universe first formed. Until now, most research on this question has been theoretical, but the next few years will bring about a new generation of large telescopes that promise to supply a flood of data about the infant universe during its first billion years after the big bang. This book bridges the gap between theory and observation. It is an invaluable reference for students and researchers on early galaxies.

The First Galaxies in the Universe starts from basic physical principles before moving on to more advanced material. Topics include the gravitational growth of structure, the intergalactic medium, the formation and evolution of the first stars and black holes, feedback and galaxy evolution, reionization, 21-cm cosmology, and more.

  • Provides a comprehensive introduction to this exciting frontier in astrophysics
  • Begins from first principles
  • Covers advanced topics such as the first stars and 21-cm cosmology
  • Prepares students for research using the next generation of large telescopes
  • Discusses many open questions to be explored in the coming decade


This book captures the latest exciting developments concerning one of the most fascinating unsolved mysteries about our origins: how did the first stars and galaxies form? This era, known as the cosmic dawn because these sources were the first to illuminate our Universe, assumes central importance in our understanding of the history of the Universe. Most research on this question has been theoretical so far. But the next decade or two will bring about a new generation of large telescopes with unprecedented sensitivity that promise to supply a flood of data about the infant Universe during its first billion years after the Big Bang. Among the new observatories are the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)— the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and three extremely large telescopes on the ground (ranging from 24 to 42 m in diameter), as well as several new arrays of dipole antennas operating at low radio frequencies. The fresh data on the first galaxies and the diffuse gas between them will test existing theoretical ideas about the formation and radiative effects of the first galaxies, and might even reveal new physics that has not yet been anticipated. This emerging interface between theory and observation will constitute an ideal opportunity for students considering a research career in astrophysics or cosmology. Thus the book is intended to provide a self-contained introduction to research on the first galaxies at a technical level appropriate for a graduate student.

The book is organized into three parts that largely build on each other. Part I, Fundamentals of Structure Formation, includes chapters on basic cosmology, linear perturbation theory, nonlinear structure formation, and the intergalactic medium. This part provides a broad introduction to studies of cosmological structure and galaxy formation with applications well beyond the first galaxies themselves. The first three chapters provide a crucial introduction to the rest of the book; the fourth (on the intergalactic medium) is not essential for many of the later chapters but is important for understanding the reionization process as well as many of the most important observational probes of the cosmic dawn.

Part II, The First Structures, focuses on the physics driving the formation of these objects, as well as the physics that determines their influence on subsequent generations of objects. We review the formation of the first stars and black holes, the importance of stellar feedback, the basic principles of galaxy evolution, and the epoch of reionization. Many of the principles contained here also have wide application to other areas of extragalactic astrophysics, though we focus on their application to the first galaxies. The first two chapters in this part build on each other, but the others can be approached largely independently.

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