11 Billion Years Ago (in Context)

On Brookhaven Bits & Bytes, Kendra Snyder shows us new images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, which analyzed the light of 14,000 distant quasars to map the ancient universe in 3-D. Hydrogen gas absorbs the light from quasars at certain wavelengths, generating a pattern known as the “Lyman-alpha forest” and allowing researchers to model the gas as it was distributed 11 billion years ago. Ethan Siegel puts this time period in context in his exhaustive cosmic history, which starts before the Big Bang and stretches a quadrillion years in the future. The universe eventually “goes dark, being populated only by black holes, neutron stars, and degenerate dwarf stars, which eventually themselves cool, fade, and turn black.” Sounds bleak, but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy a little sunshine.