Spring cleaning in the Early Universe

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.

Dr. Brenda Frye

About Dr. Brenda Frye

Brenda L. Frye is an observational cosmologist at the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory, University of Arizona. She earned her Ph. D. in Astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, assisted by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Her thesis work involved measuring the concentration of the total mass of visible plus dark matter in the fields of massive galaxy clusters, a program requiring the use of some of the largest telescopes in the world.

Moving a mile from her Ph. D. institution, she assumed a postdoctoral position with the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under the direction of Professor Saul Permutter.

She then treked across the country to take a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Princeton Council on Sciences and Technology Fellowship both at Princeton University.

Moving further east, she became a Lecturer in Physics at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, where a number of European collaborations were formed.

From there she crossed back across the pond to the west coast of the U. S. to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco.

Her travels have now landed her at her Alma Mater in Tucson, where she teaches and does research. The aims of her research continue to be to use gravitational telescopes in space as 'lenses' to study the properties of dark matter and those of distant galaxies back to when the universe was <900 million years old.

This blog is made possible by contributions from visitors like yourself. PLEASE help by supporting this blog.

Get the VOF Blog via email - free!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Spring cleaning in the Early Universe — 3 Comments

  1. Galactic phase component establishment other than detected
    dust particles, ionic gas and neutral gas media
    will have to await instrumentation availability in corresponding spectral regions.
    The Milky Way dust at 1 billion solar mass is about .001 of the Milky Way mass
    which is composed of about 95% dark matter.
    Something is missing.

Leave a Reply