Astronomers have detected light from the first stars ever, and here’s why that’s a big deal

The universe is brimming with space oddities, and it seems that scientists are discovering more of the universe’s secrets every day. NASA has discovered new planets, taken some amazing photos, and even recorded the sounds of space. And now, for the first time ever, new findings show that astronomers have detected light from the universe’s first stars.

In a study published today, February 28th, in Nature, researchers from MIT and Arizona State University revealed that they had discovered signals of hydrogen gas, traced to about 180 million years after the universe began. But the gas, which was emitted in the Big Bang, signifies something exciting: the birth of the universe’s first stars.

"This is the first real signal that stars are starting to form, and starting to affect the medium around them, Alan Rogers, a scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory said in a press release about the findings. “What’s happening in this period is that some of the radiation from the very first stars is starting to allow hydrogen to be seen. It’s causing hydrogen to start absorbing the background radiation, so you start seeing it in silhouette, at particular radio frequencies."

What do radio frequencies have to do with stars?

About 380,000 years after universe began, it was a dark and starless void filled with hydrogen gas and radiation and known as the Cosmic Microwave Background. As stars began to light up millions of years ago, their hydrogen atoms absorbed radiation from this background, leaving an radio frequency imprint that is still detectable today. Even though the first stars are long gone, Rogers and his team managed to detect the signal by setting a table-sized radio antenna in the Australian desert.

Confused? Peter Kurczynski from the National Science Foundation released a video explaining the findings.

Prior to these new findings, the oldest evidence of stars came from 400 million years after the Big Bang. Rogers and his team looked for evidence of the first light for nearly 12 years. And thanks to the data that they found, future researchers will be able to map the universe and keep track of how it evolved and expanded.

via giphy

This discovery gives us an incredible look at how the universe began. And there’s no telling what astronomers will do next — after they map the night sky, maybe they’ll even touch the sun. In the meantime, these findings have inspired us to reach for those stars.