The research was described by Kenneth M. Lanzetta, an astrophysicist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
After an innovative analysis of Hubble images of deep space, close to the beginning of time, Lanzetta
said, "We seem to be finding that star and galaxy formation started early and rapidly."
But by rapidly, astronomers do not mean all at once, but in only a few million years, fast in cosmic terms.
Further details of the findings are to be reported soon in The Astrophysical Journal
Other astronomers and cosmologists greeted the report with excitement and caution.
colleagues analyzed with different filters the color of infrared light from the faint galaxies in the most distant images taken by the Hubble telescope.They considered the known relationship of cosmic gas density and star formation in near space and the fact that most nearby galaxies are of intermediate or faint brightness, the types that could not show up in the most distant images.
From such a study, Dr. Lanzetta
concluded that the visible objects in the most distant images were only the "tip of the iceberg."They were only the brightest galaxies, not the presumably more numerous intermediate and small ones.Perhaps 90 percent of the light from the early universe is missing, he
estimated. Dr. Lanzetta
said that star formation in that early period could have occurred at a rate about 10 times as high as occurred in the present-day universe.He
estimated that this dynamic period began as early as 500 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical explosive creation of the universe thought to have occurred about 14 billion years ago.
In the beginning, the Big Bang spewed intense radiation and energy.Within a few cooling minutes, protons and neutrons, the building blocks of atoms, formed, then joined to create light elements like hydrogen, helium and lithium.Finally, these atomic nuclei captured electrons to form atoms.By 300,000 years, the universe was composed mostly of clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms.
But all was darkness, and astronomers refer to this as the "dark age."
"But previous measurements had missed the dominant light of the early galaxies," Dr. Lanzetta
An assessment of the interpretation of the research will probably center on the fact that it is based largely on extrapolations back in time.The preferred method of determining cosmic distances is by spectroscopic analysis of light from faraway objects.But light from the earliest galaxies is too faint to be studied this way.
"When we actually see the missing light," Dr. Lanzetta
conceded, "that would be the confirmation we need that this research is absolutely true."
That may not be possible until NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope, Hubble's more powerful replacement, is put into orbit, perhaps in 2008.Astronomers said they would also use Hubble's more advanced camera, to be installed by space shuttle astronauts in March, to peer even deeper into space and perhaps catch a glimpse of the "missing light" from the earliest galaxies.