Wednesday, January 7, 2009

all grown up and making carbon monoxide

From Scientific American: Did the universe mature at an early age?

More discoveries about the early universe, this time about two billion years after the Big Bang, or whatever beginning it was, which is about 11.5 billion years ago.
[A]stronomers announced that cosmic gas in that period, seen when backlit by a gamma-ray burst (a gigantic stellar explosion), contained molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide—the first time astronomers have discovered molecules, as opposed to isolated atoms or ions, in the light of a gamma-ray burst. The molecules’ presence indicates that the galaxy where the burst occurred was nearly as chemically developed as the present-day Milky Way.
I'm curious now... theoretically, there was very, very little metal in the beginning of the universe, and so the earliest stars should have no metal (called Population III or metal-free stars, you can read about this at the Metallicity article are Wikipedia). Wikipedia says (I know Wikipedia can be a little dicey, but for basics like this I think it's ok) that "theory is divided on whether the first stars were very massive or not," but considering everything was just masses of light gases expanding, I think they must have been massive, and thus had very quick life cycles and pumped out a lot of new elements. And since this new evidence is showing that chemically, the universe is pretty similar 11.5 billion years ago as it is now, does that mean that there is the slim possibility that life could have formed anytime since then? I mean, life on Earth needed, what? Earth itself. So iron, nickel, other metals, and other heavier elements. Hydrogen and carbon monoxide means our basic organic building blocks were there - carbon and water. What else does life need?

I guess maybe a lack of galactic collisions. A little peace and quiet.

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