A group of international scientists identified the oldest oxygen ever spotted in the entire universe, so far. In a galaxy that was born a long time ago, located 13.1 billion light-years away, researchers managed to trace down the light glowing from particles of ionized oxygen.
Published in the journal “Science”, this discovery is crucial to understand the processes behind the evolution of the universe. Any step that brings experts closer to the firsts moments after creation represents a sigh of progress.
To fully understand the importance of this discovery it is compulsory to mention that, in the aftermath of the Big Bang, only three elements of the periodic table existed: hydrogen, helium, and lithium. The other elements, which are required for life to become possible (oxygen and carbon), didn`t form until the first stars became old enough to produce it.
Around 150 million years after the Big Bang, the first stars started to ionize heavy elements, such as the oxygen. Studying this process, which is called cosmic reionization, or getting as close to it as possible will offer scientists valuable clues about the early steps in the evolution of our universe.
Also, one of the lead authors of this research, Akio Inoue from Sangyo Osaka University, mentioned in an official statement related to the article published in “Journal” that:
“Seeking heavy elements in the early Universe is an essential approach to explore the star formation activity in that period. Studying heavy elements also gives us a hint of understanding how the galaxies were formed and what caused the cosmic reionization.”
Prior to their research for the oldest oxygen ever spotted, the experts performed several simulations on the computer to determine their chances of actually finding it. Using a high sensitivity telescope located in Chile, they eventually detected light coming from ionized oxygen in a galaxy called SXDF-NB1006-2.
In 2012, when this galaxy was discovered, it was most distant ever to be observed. Since then, the record was broken a few times, but not by much.
However, despite their discovery of the oldest oxygen ever spotted, scientists did not detect any sign of other heavy elements.
They looked for traces of ionized carbon as well, but unfortunately their research proved to be fruitless so far.
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