Has The Universe Stopped Producing New Stars?

An international team of astronomers has published a new study suggesting that nearly all of the stars that will ever exist in our universe have in fact already been born.

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REUTERS/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage

This full-field image of the nearby dwarf galaxy NGC 4214 taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is shown as released by NASA May 12, 2011. The Hubble image reveals a sequence of steps in the formation and evolution of stars and star clusters, evident in the glowing gas surrounding bright stellar clusters.

An international team of astronomers has published a new study suggesting that nearly all of the stars that will ever exist in our universe have in fact already been born.

Using three telescopes — the Subaru Telescope and the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope in Chile — the team put together the most robust survey of star formation yet.

(MORECosmic Loners: Orphan Stars and Planets Wander the Galaxy

They found that the rate of star formation has decreased to such an extent that only 5% more stars than those that exist today will be produced in the remaining lifespan of the Universe.

David Sobral of Leiden University, the lead author of the study, tells TIME that the astronomers looked for a certain indicator—the H-alpha photons emitted by hydrogen atoms when a star forms—in their hunt for data “from stranger and smaller galaxies.”

They compiled snapshots of star-forming galaxies from different points of time in the Universe’s life span — at 2, 4, 6 and 9 billion years old — which took five years to put together. According to Sobral, “all of the action in the Universe occurred billions of years ago,” with half of all stars that ever existed created more than nine billion years ago and the remaining half created since then.

(MORE: How the Stars Were Born)

The findings have helped to explain the gap between the number of stars that can be observed and the number that scientists believe there should be in current existence. Sobral says that while there are plenty of dying stars which could help make new ones, there is a very narrow set of circumstances that enables star formation:

“You need the gas to become dense and cool enough to form stars. It’s true that when a supernova explodes, it helps, through shockwaves, to make the gas dense to trigger star formation. But if the explosion is too energetic, it can blow the gas out of the galaxy.”

The real conundrum for astronomers is explaining this phenomenon. “There is a big question in terms of really understanding why this is happening,” says Sobral. “It seems that the specifics of gas cooling and becoming dense is much harder now than it was many million years ago.”

(MOREStar Lite: You Don’t Need Heavy Metals to Build a Good Planet)

Sobral and his colleagues are now looking at the selective samples to study the environment in which stars were formed to see how it has changed, if indeed it has, over time.

He also has comforting words for those saddened by the prospect of a future with fewer stars:

“This could be interpreted as quite depressing, but if you think about it, one of the reasons why we are around is because the rate of star formation is so low. If you were to maintain a steady trend of star production there is almost no chance that a planet like ours could survive.”

Sobral adds that the number of stars in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is quite high. Given that even the shortest lifespan of stars runs into the billions of years, it will be a very long time indeed before we see the last star being born.

(MOREThe Transit of Venus: Photographs from a Rare Celestial Event)

55 comments
RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

So we should hurry up and buy one from those Star Registry people before they run out?

FreeOregon
FreeOregon like.author.displayName 1 Like

We can see only a slice of the universe. The speed of light is a limit. All we can know is what we find in our slice. We cannot be sure what is beyond our slice in extent or content. We are assuming that what we see continues beyond our vision slice. And it might. Or, it might not. We cannot know.

JimRinX
JimRinX

All of this is based upon assumptions derived from the Big Bang Theory, their effect upon our understanding of our admitedly very limited observations of the observable universe, and a number of further assumptions that are then derived from those assumptions.....though, without a long enough 'base line' from which to use the "parallax method" to measure distance to another object, we cannot know for certain where exactly - how far away, or what is really, and for absolute certain, 'next to what' - anything really is; as measurements beyond 30,000,000 Light Years are not possible at this time (That's using the width of the Solar System itself, by taking photos six months apart with the same scope, as a 'base line'); and, when you consider that the universe contains so much 'missing mass' - which could be cold, dark, ordinary matter that will someday become stars that no one is counting on, NOW - as well as the fact that stars are known to be pumping out Carbon Nano Tubes, which must thus fill outter space, and, since the undergo "stimulated emission" - with the intense ultraviolet light in interstellar space stimulating them to re-emit a POWERFUL MICROWAVE SIGNAL AT 3.7 K!!! - That relatively recent discovery may just be the "death knell" for the Old Big Bang (Awwwww.....Father LeMatres "Cosmic Humpty-Dumpty" MAY JUST HAVE FALLEN!)

SergeKim
SergeKim

They talk through their hats. The Universe is not lock-stepping in common time. Impossible. The chronology they attribute to the whole of existence is the sequence ordered by an observer viewing the cosmos from the location of the Earth and Milky Way. Time is a relative measure so from any other location the sequence and the perceived intervals between the events in that sequence may vary. The sequence may even be reversed if the location is polar.  Indefinite number of variations is possible all strictly depending on the location of the observer. That is relativity flagrantly violated, ignored and paid  lip-service to by the naive adherents of the creationist big bunk cosmogony. Impossible and highly irrational. 

d_sobral_
d_sobral_

It doesn't disprove it, quite the opposite: it completely agrees with the article, and was only written in that way because the author was misled by a title and his initial interpretation. This article should not be read as being about the Universe *shutting down* (in the sense that production is now or will soon be 0.0). It's about producing much less than before and with that being likely to continue. But based on the findings here the Universe will form stars for trillions of years - just at a continuously declining rate (but never actually reaching 0!)Just read the comments and the discussion: e.g. this study allows you to quantify things for the next trillion years (so you don't just write qualitative titles); it predicts *18 million more stars will exist* per co-moving cubic Megaparsec when compared to today. That seems a lot, but now do the ratio between then and now: what do you get? 3.6 % more stars. Now wait forever if you want to get close to the 5% increase mentioned. If you multiply by a really large volume in the Universe you will have an even larger number of new stars. So actually, the title of the blog entry should be “the Universe will have millions of new stars for trillions of years (per Mpc^3)!”, then add *but that is fully consistent with the maximal 5% increase compared to what exists today!".

RachaelHarven
RachaelHarven

I believe in large accumulations of matter and big bangs plural not singlular.  I say don't be sad firework you are in a state of decline but the firework show has just begun

RachaelHarven
RachaelHarven

shut your eyes, aim your head at a field of grass blink your eyes open and shut instantly, now tell me the rate of grass growth. Will this field keep growing? Do you project a decline or increase in grass growth over all across the earth? 

Schaff22
Schaff22

I love the universe!  I wanna go there some day.

jcottle
jcottle

The total number of projected stars in the observable universe is 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 300 sextillion. 5% future production either way isn't going to mean all that much to folks in the next 13.5 billion years, but more importantly is the number of projected supernovae that will actually predict the future of new star formation.  

alan_m_page
alan_m_page

Doesn't matter if our sort of matter comprises ONLY 5 % of the mass of the Universe.

jwgalarza
jwgalarza

dont like the fact those astrologers opinion on whats going on with stars creation of the universe because they dont know how big it is they have the w map of heat of the universe they might compare the previews map to latest one to have an estimate just wrong that is just a heat map by measure light variation they think can tell everything about the universe.

jhutch42
jhutch42 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@jwgalarza astrologers? Hahahaha

primetime431
primetime431

If we  hit capacity I wonder how long the universe is willing to hold it's fart. I guess the Mayans were right after all :( Poof

BillODea
BillODea

Global Warming is probably the cause

MaryKateClark
MaryKateClark like.author.displayName 1 Like

If I didn't feel like an insignificant speck before reading this... 

jcottle
jcottle

@MaryKateClark  How could you feel even slightly insignificant? In the entire expanse of the universe, there is only one of you. 

Horse
Horse

That we know of. Probably.

AdamHall
AdamHall like.author.displayName 1 Like

@MaryKateClark Feel glad that you get to be a speck born from and part of a magnificent universe and how unlikely and lucky your existence truly is.

JosephGranucci
JosephGranucci

I think it’s great that science is always pushing boundaries to further understanding. However....This is a possibility not a guarantee. Just think.... Spontaneous generation was a sound scientific theory, however it has been kicked to the roadside (rightly so) We are still in our infinite stages of understanding the universe and it still has much to show us.

JamesBradshaw
JamesBradshaw

Can anyone tell me how all this relates to the unsolved question of dark matter and dark energy.

JamesBradshaw
JamesBradshaw

No, but thanks, I haven't thought of Isaac Asimov in ages. What was the theme of The Last Question?

pmefford
pmefford

we don't have a clue about what is going on in the universe...

bluewaters4567
bluewaters4567

@pmefford Well, actually, we don't have a damn clue of what is going on our own planet.  Take climate change for example.  We just theorize, thats all.

UncleBenny
UncleBenny like.author.displayName 1 Like

@bluewaters4567 @pmefford 

Or the THEORY of electromagnetism, or the THEORY of plate tectonics, or the germ THEORY of disease or quantum THEORY or ...

 Get the drift? Perhaps you should educate yourself about  the scientific definition of theory (hint: it doesn't mean "educated guess") before spouting off about it. Theories are the bedrock of science. Nothing is ever proven, everything is provisional, because newer and better evidence may always come along.

CrystalNurazuraHall
CrystalNurazuraHall

@UncleBenny @bluewaters4567 @pmefford Magnets? How do they work? lol

andmigmin
andmigmin like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@pmefford  

You don't have a clue what is going on in the universe...

JonathanCarroll
JonathanCarroll like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think this is weakly based and farfetched; although it makes logical sense, it's just that our universe has SO MUCH going on, now device could excogitate our entire universe; most of all the number of stars.

Michael89
Michael89 like.author.displayName 1 Like

There are many many many universe's out there that we cannot see with a telescope so how can they say that there will be no more stars left or do they mean just in our universe.                                                                                            

cheeseguy
cheeseguy

this makes sense seeing the universe is expanding, everything is getting further apart. 

dust
dust

Wow, nice comments in here.  Such a wonderful blend of snide political commentary, "hilarious" sarcasm, and cynical know-it-all know-nothings. I'm sure it's very rewarding for article's author to see the intelligent discussion unfold.

FawzyHalawzy
FawzyHalawzy

OMG, does this mean we're only about 10 billion years from the end? What a disaster!

d_sobral_
d_sobral_

@FawzyHalawzy This doesn't mean anything regarding "the end". In fact, even if the decline in the "cosmic star formation" continues infinitely into the future, the Universe will still form dozens of millions of news stars over the next trillions of years or so in each cube of 1 cubic light-years (with this actually taking into account the fact that the Universe is expanding, so volumes across time are actually comparable). But there are so many stars in the Universe already that even dozens of millions of stars will just be a "tiny" increase of just a few (~5) percent.

zee123
zee123

Probably...since people started watching and calling Hollywood stars....

davecu41
davecu41

Blame Bush!

MarkSchmidt
MarkSchmidt like.author.displayName 1 Like

@davecu41 I was just thinking someone would blame Obama, but most of the righties don't believe in science anyway...or facts, either.

cwhite1898
cwhite1898

I wonder if they are taking into account the effect of dark matter on star formation. Maybe the set of star forming circumstances aren't as narrow as they think.

SamDiggs
SamDiggs

So in school they teach us that the universe is and always will be expanding.... is it just going to be dark out there or is that inaccurate?  whats the whole story here

d_sobral_
d_sobral_

@SamDiggs Almost every single thing we can see with our own eyes in a nice night sky is within our galaxy, and also really nearby (so even stars at more distant positions within our galaxy are hard to see with our own eyes). So even if you could travel way into the future to a position comparable to what the Earth occupies now (as if you travel way too much into the future the Sun would have "swallowed" our Earth), you should still be able to stare at a really nice night sky with plenty of stars (even if nothing could be seen outside our ["upgraded"] Milky-Wayndromeda galaxy).