Earendel's Light



Back when the universe was young, massive blue giant stars many times the size of our sun were hypothesized to inhabit the cosmic expanse. These primordial luminous bodies evolved in gas-rich stellar nurseries soon after the universe was cool enough to support the coalescence of giant molecular hydrogen clouds, which fragmented into gravitational-bound cores that gave rise to population III stars.

Because the early universe was mainly composed of hydrogen and helium, population III stars are said to be the first and most purest class of stars in terms of their lack of "metallicity," a classification used by astronomers to denote any star with an abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen. For many decades, the light signature of these magnificent cosmic candles has eluded our best instruments - until now.

On March 30, NASA announced the discovery of the farthest star ever seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. 12.9 billion years ago, light from what appears to be a population III star began its journey to Earth. This incredible detection - partly due to an optical phenomenon known as gravitational lensing - captured in extraordinary detail a greatly-magnified image of a space relic named Earendel.

Although it is yet to be determined if Earendel does indeed belongs to population III stars, scientists are celebrating the fact that Hubble was able to set a new record for one of the most distant objects ever observed since the dawn of time. Now that the James Webb Space Telescope has entered active service, astronomers are eager to point it in the direction of Earendel to confirm whether we have found a legendary cosmic jewel thought to be a precursor of life in the universe.