Catching up on Cosmic Dawn

Trying to catch up on cosmological news after a busy week I came across a number of pieces in the media about “Cosmic Dawn” (e.g. here in The Grauniad). I’ve never actually met Cosmic Dawn but she seems like an interesting lady.

But seriously folks, Cosmic Dawn refers to the epoch during which the first stars formed in the expanding Universe lighting up the Universe after a few hundred million years of post-recombination darkness.

According to the Guardian article mentioned above the new results being discussed are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society but they’re actually not. Yet. Nevertheless the paper (by Laporte et al.) is available on the arXiv which is where people will actually read it…

Anyway, here is the abstract:

Here is a composite of HST and ALMA images for one of the objects discussed in the paper (MACS0416-JD):

I know it looks a bit blobby but it’s not easy to resolve things at such huge distances! Also, it’s quite small because it’s far away. In any case the spectroscopy is really the important thing, not the images, as that is what determines the redshift. The Universe has expanded by a factor 10 since light set out towards us from an object at redshift 9. I’m old enough to remember when “high redshift” meant z~0.1!

At the end of my talk on Wednesday Floyd Stecker asked me about what the James Webb Space Telescope (due for launch later this year) would do for cosmology and I replied that it would probably do a lot more for galaxy formation and evolution than cosmology per se. I think this is a good illustration of what I meant. Because of its infrared capability JWST will allow astronomers to push back even further and learn even more about how the first stars formed, but it won’t tell us much directly about dark matter and dark energy.

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