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Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 23:52 GMT


Some of our stars are missing
image: [ Stars - but are there more hidden from view? (pic by Nasa) ]
Stars - but are there more hidden from view? (pic by Nasa)

Astronomers say there are far more stars in the sky than they had previously realized. The result comes from the satellite that six years ago revealed what astronomers called the "face of God". Roland Pease of BBC Science reports how the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite continues to tell us about the Big Bang that created the Universe.

Six years ago, the world's media were inundated with pictures of the earliest moment yet seen of the Universe. Headlines were written like "How the Universe Began". What the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite, or Cobe, had shown were the echoes of microwave radiation left over after the Big Bang. The picture showed the Universe the way it was 300,000 years after the Big Bang - before stars or galaxies had begun to form. What the new pictures released show is the Universe at a later stage.

[ image: An image produced by Cobe (pic by Nasa)]
An image produced by Cobe (pic by Nasa)
Cobe has been looking at infrared radiation that is an echo of the starlight from all around the Universe. Of course, astronomers can see stars directly, but by subtracting all the light they do see directly from the Cobe image, they found there is more that is not accounted for. In other words, there are stars we do not know about.

There could be two reasons we have missed them - either they are hidden from our view by clouds of dust, or they are no longer there but their light is still echoing around the Universe. The second possibility is especially interesting, as astronomers have long thought that the first generation of stars may have burned with particular vigour, and burned out in a very short time. This Cobe result may be the first evidence of this lost generation of stars, the fossil light from an earlier epoch in the Universe.

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