The research was described by Dr. 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, Dr. Lanzetta
said, "We seem to be finding that star and galaxy formation started early and rapidly."
Details are to be reported soon in The Astrophysical Journal
Other astronomers and cosmologists greeted the report with excitement and caution.Dr. Bruce Margon, associate director for science at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, said that by clever and careful analysis Dr. Lanzetta had "teased out an incredibly subtle result" about early star formation.
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
Moreover, the scientists said, the objects that are visible must be quite intense, unexpectedly bright and roiling with star birth on a grand scale.
Taking into account the visible galaxies and the greater amount of "missing light," Dr. Lanzetta
inferred that star formation in the early universe did not begin "bit by bit," adding that he
favored "scenarios where galaxy formation started early and proceeded rapidly."By rapidly, astronomers mean in millions rather than billions of years.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 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.
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