First stars 'lit up universe with luminosity of 100 million suns'

An artist's impression of the first stars in the early universe Credit: Royal Astronomical Society

The first stars to be born could have clustered together and lit up the universe with the luminosity of 100 million suns, researchers have found.

Scientists in Canada have calculated what the first stars to break through the cosmological 'dark ages' would have looked like.

The first stars were born some several hundred million years after the Big Bang and ended a period known as the cosmological 'dark ages' - when atoms of hydrogen and helium had formed, but nothing shone in visible light.

Alexander DeSouza and Shantanu Basu, from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, have now calculated what these first stars would have looked like.

They found the first stars could have clustered together in phenomenally bright groups, with periods when they were as luminous as 100 million suns.

The earliest stars lived very short lives and produced the first heavy elements, like the carbon and oxygen that the chemistry of life depends upon.

Light from these stars has travelled towards us for almost 13 billion years, so to observers on Earth they look very fain.

This makes these stars very hard to observe, but the next generation James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will survey the skies to look for them.

Dr Basu said: “Seeing the very first stars is a key science goal for JWST and part of astronomers’ quest to track the history of the cosmos.

"If we’re right, then in just a few years’ time, we could see these enigmatic and dazzlingly bright objects as they came into being, and lit up the universe around them.”