Astronomers studying the distant universe have found that small star-forming galaxies were abundant when the universe was only 800 million years old, a few percent of its present age. The results suggest that the earliest galaxies, which illuminated and ionized the universe, formed at even earlier times.
The epoch when the very first stars appeared is a key period of cosmic history. These stars began the manufacture of the chemical elements (those heavier than hydrogen and helium) and their light began the reionisation of the neutral cosmic gas. These stars thus mark the dawn of the universe as we know it today and the start of the so-called Epoch of Reionisation.
ESA’s Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the only sources needed to account for reionising atoms in the cosmos, having completed half of this process when the universe had reached an age of 700 million years.