Astronomers from the University of California have detected, for the first time, pristine clouds of primordial gas from the Big Bang. The discovery appears to support theoretical predictions regarding the composition of such gas, upholding cosmological explanations for the origin of elements in the universe.
The Big Bang created the lightest elements, such as hydrogen and helium, with heavier elements only emerging once stars had formed hundreds of millions of years later. It was previously not possible to detect clouds of the original gas which had not been contaminated by the rest of the universe, but the clouds have been identified by analysing the light from distant quasars.
Using the HIRES spectrometer in Hawaii, researchers were able to spread the light into different wavelengths and study how light was absorbed by the clouds as it passed through. They detected only hydrogen and its heavy isotope deuterium, while helium can’t be detected in this way. Oxygen, carbon and silicon was all completely absent.