Filling the Gap in Stellar History

200873121 Phil Berardelli in ScienceNOW:

Cosmologists probably know more about the first few minutes after the big bang–thought to have occurred about 13.7 billion years ago–than they do about the following billion years of the universe’s existence, sometimes known as the cosmic dark ages. Within that interim, the first stars formed and began to light up the universe.

The problem with studying those very early stars is that they no longer exist. According to theory, all or nearly all of them began as supergiants hundreds of times more massive than the sun. Then they expended their nuclear fuel and exploded within a few million years. This early demise was good for the evolution of the universe, because the supergiants dispersed the heavy elements necessary to form smaller stars as well as planets and, eventually, people. But unfortunately for scientists, the primordial beasts also expunged all detectable evidence of themselves.

A team led by physicist Naoki Yoshida of Nagoya University in Japan set out to fill this cosmic evolutionary gap in the only way currently possible: They carried out a computer simulation that duplicates the process of star formation in the very young universe.