The Big Bang fossil discovery: a pristine cloud in the distant universe

The Big Bang fossil discovery: a pristine cloud in the distant universe
An artistic interpretation of the Big Bang. ©iStock/gremlin

The world’s most powerful optical telescope has been used to observe a Big Bang fossil, a relic cloud of gas  in the distant universe.

The W.M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii was used to view the gas cloud which is being described as a rare Big Bang fossil.

The discovery of the rare fossil from the Big Bang offers new information about the formation of the first galaxies.

Is the gas cloud a genuine Big Bang fossil?

PhD student Fred Robert at the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, said: “Everywhere we look, the gas in the universe is polluted by waste heavy elements from exploding stars. But this particular cloud seems pristine, unpolluted by stars even 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang.”

“If it has any heavy elements at all, it must be less than 1/10,000th of the proportion we see in our Sun”, he added, “This is extremely low; the most compelling explanation is that it’s a true relic of the Big Bang.”

The rarity of the discovery

The only other two other fossil clouds known were discovered in 2011 by Professor Michele Fumagalli of Durham University, John O’Meara, formerly a professor at St. Michael’s College and now the new Chief Scientist at Keck Observatory, and Professor J. Xavier Prochaska of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Fumagalli and O’Meara are also co-authors of this new research.
O’Meara commented: “The first two were serendipitous discoveries, and we thought they were the tip of the iceberg. But no one has discovered anything similar – they are clearly very rare and difficult to see. It’s fantastic to finally discover one systematically.”

Murphy concluded: “It’s now possible to survey for these fossil relics of the Big Bang. That will tell us exactly how rare they are and help us understand how some gas formed stars and galaxies in the early universe, and why some didn’t.”

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