Researchers have identified an incredibly unique nebula in the farthest reaches of our Universe. Untouched by ‘pollution’ from the stars, it consists of an actual ‘fossil’ from the Big Bang.
Paleontologists aren’t the only ones who get to deal with fossils! Astronomers can also find relics as old as time itself. The incredible discovery made by researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia is proof of this and this discovery was made using one of the most powerful optical instruments in the world: the twin telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory, a facility located at the top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii, 4,145 meters high.
In a statement that was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers Fred Robert and Michael Murphy reveal that they have detected a surprising ‘cloud’, now being considered a ‘fossil’ from the Big Bang.
‘This particular cloud seems pristine, unpolluted by stars even 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang,’ revealed Fred Roberts in a statement.
‘The most compelling explanation is that it’s a true relic of the Big Bang,’ continues the scientist.
An incomparable brightness
In order to make this discovery, astronomers used two of the devices set up in the W.M. Keck Observatory. These devices were the Echelle Spectrograph and Imager (ESI) and the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES). These tools allowed them to analyze the spectral shadows emitted by a very unique structure known as a quasar.
One of these rare celestial objects is actually behind the famous ‘fossil’ from the Big Bang. The first thing that makes it so rare is its brightness which is quite unique for our universe. It was actually this brightness that allowed the astronomers to detect the elements present in this nebula that is untouched by all stellar ‘pollution’.
‘We targeted quasars where previous researchers had only seen shadows from hydrogen and not from heavy elements in lower-quality spectra. This allowed us to discover such a rare fossil quickly with the precious time on Keck Observatory’s twin telescopes,’ states Fred Robert. This new discovery comes now as a result of just two previous discoveries.
‘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,’ adds John O’Meara, the astronomer who discovered one of the two previous nebulae. This discovery is a major breakthrough which will open doors for new and fresh perspectives for astronomy, as Michael Murphy highlights below.
‘It is 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.’ These astronomical ‘fossils’ definitely seem to be just as important and rich in information as paleontological fossils.
Check out the video above for more on this amazing find!