Review

The First Stars in the Universe and Cosmic Reionization

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Science  18 Aug 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5789, pp. 931-934
DOI: 10.1126/science.1125644

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Abstract

The earliest generation of stars, far from being a mere novelty, transformed the universe from darkness to light. The first atoms to form after the Big Bang filled the universe with atomic hydrogen and a few light elements. As gravity pulled gas clouds together, the first stars ignited and their radiation turned the surrounding atoms into ions. By looking at gas between us and distant galaxies, we know that this ionization eventually pervaded all space, so that few hydrogen atoms remain today between galaxies. Knowing exactly when and how it did so is a primary goal of cosmologists, because this would tell us when the early stars formed and in what kinds of galaxies. Although this ionization is beginning to be understood by using theoretical models and computer simulations, a new generation of telescopes is being built that will map atomic hydrogen throughout the universe.

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