BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 12 April, 2002, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Dust from dawn of time
Astronomers used the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope
Astronomers have detected cosmic ashes from the dawn of time.

It comes from stars that died more than 10 billion years ago.

It is the first time stellar dust has been detected at such an early stage in the evolution of the Universe, say British scientists.

The stars that made the carbon and silicon in these quasars are probably like the stars that made the carbon in our own bodies

Dr Richard McMahon, University of Cambridge
The snapshot of the baby Cosmos was taken using a powerful instrument on a telescope in Hawaii.

The instrument used one of the world's most powerful cameras to glimpse some of the most distant quasars yet known.

Analysis of the quasars' light revealed that it came from galaxies that were formed very early in the history of the Universe.

The quasars appear to contain large amounts of cool dust, a substance formed from the atmospheres of old stars.

Youthful Cosmos

"We're looking more than nine-tenths of the way back to the birth of the Universe in the Big Bang, " said team leader Dr Robert Priddey of Imperial College, London.

He added: "It`s amazing enough that these quasars, powered by billion solar mass black holes, should already exist only a billion years after the Big Bang.

"That these quasars also appear to contain so much dust yields important clues to the formation of massive galaxies in the youthful Cosmos."

What are quasars?
Bright and distant objects that were more common in the early Universe
A quasar emits a huge amount of energy - up to 10,000 times that of the whole Milky Way galaxy.
They are just one type of the many active galaxies now visible to us
The existence of the dust and the presence of constituents like silicon and carbon suggests that a large mass of stars had already been born, grown old and died, within only a billion years of the Big Bang.

Dr Richard McMahon of the University of Cambridge said: "The stars that made the carbon and silicon in these quasars are probably like the stars that made the carbon in our own bodies.

"It is very exciting to be able to learn when the chemical elements in our bodies were made."

Full details of the findings are presented on Friday 12 April at the National Astronomy Meeting in Bristol.

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories