Scientists have solved a great mystery at the dawn of time itself

Most of us will never understand the fact that scientists can actually look back in time.

The power of telescopes allows us to study phenomena that occurred billions of years ago and even contemplate the dawn of creation itself.

Now, astrophysicists have solved a great mystery at the heart of the birth of our universe, when everything was shrouded in thick fog.

In four separate articles published in (or accepted in) The Astrophysics JournalScientists from MIT, Japan’s Nagoya University, ETH Zurich and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have shared some remarkable insights into the period known as the Epoch of Reionization.

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Relatively little is known about this era, during which the thick fog that enveloped the universe gradually cleared, allowing stars and galaxies to shine.

However, new observations made using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are starting to bring the curtain down on everything.

Now, scientists have finally figured out why a billion years after the Big Bang, that thick fog has finally cleared.

First, what exactly is the Epoch of Reionization?

During the first billion years after the Big Bang, space was filled with a dense fog of ionized gas that was impervious to light.

As the gas began to cool, the protons and electrons began to combine to form mostly neutral hydrogen atoms and some helium.

These clumps of neutral hydrogen are then thought to have begun forming stars, clustering into galaxies.

This process reionized the gas, but since the space had expanded by this point, the newly ionized hydrogen was diffused enough for light to pass through, as Scientific alarmNotes.

A few million years later, the universe had become the transparent expanse we now knew.

To explain, here’s a look at what these four new articles reveal about why the space has become so much clearer.

The JWST has returned extraordinarily detailed images of galaxies that existed when the universe was only 900 million years oldNASA/Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

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In the first study, researchers from the University of Groningen have revealed that they have discovered crucial evidence of star formation during the Reionization Epoch.

They found a specific wavelength of hydrogen, called alpha hydrogen, which forms when a star is born and emits huge amounts of ionizing ultraviolet radiation.

Until now, no one was sure what produced all the ultraviolet light that emerged during the Reionization Era.

But thanks to the detection of alpha hydrogen, the Groningen team of astronomers discovered that star formation played a significant role in the reionization process.

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Another paper, led by Japanese astrophysicist Daichi Kashino, added galaxies to the mix.

According to Kashino and his international team, the reionization occurred in the bubbles around the plethora of newly formed galaxies.

They used JWST data to locate these pockets and measure them precisely, identifying that they had a radius of 2 million light years around the tiny galaxies.

Over the next 100 million years, the bubbles got bigger and bigger, eventually merging and making the entire universe transparent, according to an article published by NASA.

Galaxies have been found to be largely responsible for the clear conditions seen across much of the universe todayNASA, ESA, CSA, Joyce Kang (STScI)

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A third group of researchers, led by ETH Zurich astrophysicist Jorryt Matthee, analyzed the characteristics of these bubbles and found that the first galaxies they contained were hot, low in metals and dust, and highly active.

He said they were more chaotic than those in the nearby universe, adding: ‘Webb shows they were actively forming stars and must have fired many supernovae. They had quite an adventurous youth!

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A fourth paper, led by MIT cosmologist Anna-Christina Eilers, focused her attention on the quasar galaxy at the center of the JWST observations.

This quasar is, according to NASA, an extremely bright active supermassive black hole that acts like a huge flashlight.

Eilers and his team used data from the telescope to confirm that the black hole is the most massive currently known in the early universe, weighing 10 billion times the mass of the sun.

We still can’t explain how quasars were able to grow so much so early in the history of the universe, he said. This is another riddle to solve!

Conclusion

Congratulations, if you survived to the end, this is all pretty heavy. But the key point here is that before JWST, no one knew for sure what caused the reionization.

Now, thanks to the mighty golden-eyed telescope, one of the great mysteries behind the birth of creation has finally been solved.

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