Lighting the Universe with Filaments

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Science  14 Sep 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5844, pp. 1527-1530
DOI: 10.1126/science.1146676

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The first stars in the universe form when chemically pristine gas heats as it falls into dark-matter potential wells, cools radiatively because of the formation of molecular hydrogen, and becomes self-gravitating. Using supercomputer simulations, we demonstrated that the stars' properties depend critically on the currently unknown nature of the dark matter. If the dark-matter particles have intrinsic velocities that wipe out small-scale structure, then the first stars form in filaments with lengths on the order of the free-streaming scale, which can be ∼1020 meters (∼3 kiloparsecs, corresponding to a baryonic mass of ∼107 solar masses) for realistic “warm dark matter” candidates. Fragmentation of the filaments forms stars with a range of masses, which may explain the observed peculiar element abundance pattern of extremely metal-poor stars, whereas coalescence of fragments and stars during the filament's ultimate collapse may seed the supermassive black holes that lurk in the centers of most massive galaxies.

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