This is yet another installment on dust. Thanks to observations with the mighty Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, a radio telescope in Chile, we can now view this humble material at a distance of 13.2 billion light years away. This is interesting as we think the universe is only 13.7 billion years old.
If we turn the clock all the way back to just before there were any stars, we would find a universe made up of hydrogen, helium, and the slightest amount of lithium. If we now fast-forward to the time when the stars turned on in the universe for the first time, we expect for many of them to make enormous amounts of carbon, silicon and aluminum which combine together with hydrogen to make dust.
Yes, we think it is thanks to stars that we have any dust at all. What is missing is finding those (close to the) first stars in that (close to the) first galaxy in the act of introducing dust to the universe.
For the case of this particular galaxy under study, dust in the amount of 6 million times the mass of the Sun was formed. That sounds astounding, but a little less so when this value is placed alongside that of the dust in the Milky Way. This is because Milky Way dust weighs in at closer to 1 billion solar masses.
Will one ever look on dust bunnies again with the same disgust knowing their brethren were in the vicinities of some of the first stars to turn on in the universe? Perhaps we will enjoy doing the sweeping up just a little bit more when we realize that dust is so universally common that this activity may be what we have most in common with other intelligent life in the universe.