An Australian physicist is unravelling the mystery of how the hot, brilliant stars we see today emerged from our Universe’s “dark age”.
Theoretical physicist Prof Stuart Wyithe is one of the world’s leading thinkers on the Universe as it was 13 billion years ago, when there were no stars or galaxies, just cold gas.
In the next few years astronomers will learn much more as powerful new telescopes come online.
“These new telescopes will be looking at radiation coming from hydrogen atoms 13 billion years in the past—a time only 800,000 years after the Big Bang,” says Stuart, who is based at the University of Melbourne.
Piecing together when the first galaxies were born and how big they were—these are just some of the things possible with the Square Kilometre Array (shared between southern Africa and Australasia) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia.
“It’s exciting that in a few short years we will have a better understanding of this ‘dark age’ of the Universe,” he says.
“This ‘epoch of reionisation’ (the transition from a cold Universe to a hot one) is the last non-understood event in the history of the Universe.
“Astronomy is all about trying to understand how the Universe came to look the way it does, as well as how it works.”
For his work on the physics of the formation of the hot Universe, Stuart received the 2011 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.
Photo: Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope.
Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage
Photo: STUART WYITHE IS LOOKING BACK TO THE BIRTH OF THE FIRST GALAXIES.
CREDIT: NASA, ESA, CRAL, LAM, STSCI