Magazine article Science News

No Beginning in Sight for Star Formation

Magazine article Science News

No Beginning in Sight for Star Formation

Article excerpt

It kept going and going and going....

As far back in time as astronomers can observe, the cosmos was churning out stars at a prodigious rate, a new study reveals.

Scientists believe that as they peer ever deeper into space and farther back in time, they will eventually come upon the epoch when star formation was not yet in full bloom. However, "we haven't found that place yet," says Charles C. Steidel of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The universe was remarkably consistent [in making stars] for a fairly large amount of cosmic time."

As far back as 12 billion years ago, when the universe was perhaps 16 percent of its current age, the cosmos was producing stars at a rate about 10 times higher than it does today, Steidel says. The prolific star formation lasted until about 7 billion years ago. Steidel presented his team's findings Jan. 30 at a cosmology workshop in Chicago.

Moreover, an analysis by another team suggests that the cosmos was making stars just as rapidly when it was even younger, about 9 percent of its current age. Piero Madau of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore and his colleagues report their results on the Internet ( astro-ph/9809058).

The findings contradict a previous report from a team led by Madau and including Steidel. It counted faint, faraway galaxies in the tiny patch of sky called the Hubble Deep Field, which was scrutinized by the Hubble Space Telescope. …

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