Astrophysics

The First Bursts

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Science  28 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5577, pp. 2299-2301
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5577.2299e

Theoretical work and recent observations have suggested a scenario in which many of the first stars that formed (called population III stars) were supermassive (greater than 260 solar masses) and collapsed into supermassive black holes that swallowed all of the heavy elements (metals) created by the nucleosynthetic processes. If correct, then the early universe may have had a different environment and structure, with a higher rate of electron-positron pair instability supernovae and a larger number of supermassive black holes.

Schneider et al. adopt an ingenious approach to determine whether the initial mass function (IMF) is skewed toward very massive stars; it is based on the calculated flux of diffuse neutrino emission from gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) from supermassive population III stars. If the IMF is top-heavy, then high-energy neutrino emission will dominate two energy bands that current (AMANDA-I) and forthcoming (AMANDA-II and IceCube) neutrino telescopes can measure. Thus, detecting the properties of the elusive neutrino at high energies and, possibly, a new type of GRB (the first GRBs, with peak energies in the x-ray regime and longer durations) will open a window into the evolution and structure of the earliest stages of star formation and metal enrichment of the universe. — LR

Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc.334, 173 (2002).

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