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Scientists expect to encounter a lot of strange things in the dark trenches of the universe: Hurricanes of dark matter, screaming skull nebulas and cannibal galaxies slowly devouring each other are all par for the course in our bizarre cosmos.
One thing that stargazers typically don't expect to find, however, is undeveloped real estate.
Gas - Universe - Waste - Elements - Stars
"Everywhere we look, the gas in the universe is polluted by waste heavy elements from exploding stars," lead study author Fred Robert, a Ph.D. student at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, said in a statement. "But this particular cloud seems pristine, unpolluted by stars even 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang."
The universe’s first stars were formed from hydrogen and helium alone; Every other element on the periodic table comes from fusion reactions inside stars, and scatters into space when those stars explode as supernovae. Why a single, gassy cloud should appear unburdened by heavier elements seen almost everywhere else in the universe remains a mystery. But for Robert and his colleagues, the "most compelling" explanation is that the cloud is a rare time capsule of the universe's earliest minutes, preserved from a time before ancient hydrogen and helium atoms forged the universe's first stars and, later, the rest of the elements in the periodic table we know today.
Team - Discovery - Cloud - Gas - Star
The team's discovery marks only the third cloud of cosmic gas believed to be totally unsullied by star stuff, (that is, every element heavier than helium).
The first two of these gassy mysteries were detected in 2011 by astronomer Michele Fumagalli and colleagues, also using the Keck Observatory's mountaintop telescope. According to that team's subsequent paper (published 2011 in the journal Science), the two clouds may have been the result of the strange and inconsistent ways that metal flows through interstellar space, and "could just be the tip of the...
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