Astronomers have discovered a rare duo of pristine gases from the Big Bang, the age of which is thought to be nearly 13 billion years.
Astronomers, using the 10-meter telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory, announced the discovery of the rare gases, issuing a statement on Thursday announcing the discovery.
Scientists say the gas clouds are too diffuse to form stars and show virtually no signs of containing any “metals,” the first of its kind. The team of astronomers noted that the discovery was important for the fact that the only elements detected in the clouds are hydrogen and its heavier isotope, deuterium. Currently discovered clouds of gas contain heavier metals forged in the centers of stars. A few hundred million years later, clumps of these gas clouds condensed to form the first stars, which created and dispersed heavier elements throughout the universe.
“We found two gas clouds that show a significant abundance of hydrogen, so we know that they are there,” says lead study author Michele Fumagalli, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“As hard as we’ve tried to find pristine material in the universe, we have failed until now,” added J Xavier Prochaska, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “These clouds are at least 10 times lower than that limit and are the most pristine gas discovered in our universe.”
The existence of pristine interstellar gases had been predicted, but never before observed, scientists noted. According to the big bang model, only the first two elements on the periodic table, hydrogen and helium, existed in the very early universe. The clouds were discovered within the constellations Ursa Major and Leo, astronomers said.
he clouds aren’t the oldest celestial objects astronomers can see—they’re from about two billion years after the big bang, and astronomers have spotted parts of the universe that date to less than one billion years after the event.
The discovery is likely to create an additional search for other pockets of pristine interstellar gases, astronomers said. Scientists have noted that the discovery of such gases likely proves that pristine areas of the universe still exist.
The discovery is published this week in Science.