Solving the “First Stars” Problem

Solving the “First Stars” Problem

My first experience with publishing recently culminated with the release of Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? The process required numerous editors inspecting my writing, making improvements, and checking for errors. The first editorial passes put the basic structure of the booklet in place and made sure the “plot” developed well. Ensuing phases verified that each section communicated its message clearly and transitioned into neighboring sections. The last stages checked for any typographical and grammatical errors. A quality publication requires that each step proceed in the proper order and build on previous steps.

The development of scientific models operates in a similar fashion. The model must first explain the big picture. Then the model is filled out with predictions and newly gathered data, providing more and more detail. For example, inflationary big bang cosmology provides the best explanation for many of the big picture aspects of this universe. Two notable examples include the observed redshifts of distant galaxies and the uniformity (and important small clumps) of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. However, there remain many outstanding issues remain in big bang cosmology. How did the first stars form and what did they look like? What was the mechanism that caused the inflationary epoch? How did the magnetic fields of galaxies arise? Some would argue that such unanswered questions invalidate big bang cosmology.

Most scientists look upon such unanswered questions as exciting areas of future research. In fact, such an attitude recently led to results that provide at least part of the answer to how the first stars formed.

Two competing processes affect star formation. Gravity causes material to clump together tightly enough to allow nuclear fusion to ignite in the heart of the newly-formed star. But the energy given off as the material collapses wants to push the outer material away from the star, preventing the star’s formation. Unless the star can radiate this energy away efficiently, the blob of gas remains too large (in physical size) for a star to form. For stars like the Sun, elements heavier than helium provide this cooling mechanism. However, after the big bang, only the earliest elements hydrogen and helium existed (practically speaking) so it seems that it would be impossible for such a mechanism to function.

A team of Japanese and American scientists performed a detailed simulation of the early universe when the first stars formed. The simulations demonstrated that the primeval density fluctuations (those imprinted on the CMB radiation) could generate protostars (developing stars) with masses one percent the mass of the Sun. These results validate one of the vital first steps in forming the first stars. The team expects that future research will demonstrate how these protostars can accrete (collect) hydrogen from the surrounding gas. After growing to masses around 100 times the mass of the Sun, these stars would burn quickly and explode—sending out heavier elements that enabled future generations of smaller stars to form.

Solving this critical first step is like the editor ensuring that one important booklet section transitions properly to the next section.

Every scientific model contains unresolved problems. However, RTB’s creation model, which incorporates big bang cosmology, stands as a successful one where problems diminish with future research. In fact, research into these obstacles has led to a greater understanding of the processes God used to create and develop this universe.