Stellar formation is slowing down
An international team of astronomers have recently conducted the first comprehensive survey of stellar formation—a kind of ‘star census.’ Since light has a maximum speed, researchers were able to use enormous telescopes (including the imaginatively named Very Large Telescope in Chile) to look into the past and study several star-forming galaxies from 4, 7, 9, and 11 billion years ago. They found that the rate of stellar formation in the early universe was far greater than it is today, and that that 95% of stars have already been formed. Half of these were created at a peak between 9 and 11 billion years ago, when the universe was still in infancy—a casual observer would’ve seen stars rapidly igniting the darkness all around. Since then, the rate of stellar formation has gradually slowed to a fraction of its former pace, and is currently 3% of its peak. After churning out the remaining 5% of stars, the universe will run out of star-making materials and star production will grind to a halt. In the future, over billions and billions of years, the universe’s stars will run out of fuel and extinguish one by one, and eventually the universe will be a very dark place.
(Image Credit: NASA)