What makes one rose bush blossom with flowers, while another remains barren? Astronomers ask a similar question of galaxies.
A new study published in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Nature addresses this question by making some of the most accurate measurements yet of the meager rates at which small, sluggish galaxies create stars. The report uses data from the European Space Agency's Herschel mission, in which NASA is a partner, and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).
The findings are helping researchers figure out how the very first stars in our universe sprouted. Like the stars examined in the new study, the first-ever stars from billions of years ago took root in poor conditions. Growing stars in the early cosmos is like trying to germinate flower seeds in a bed of dry, poor soil. Back then, the universe hadn't had time yet to make "heavy metals," elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.