Scientists have found a secret cluster of remote stars in the universe, the journal Science Now reports. What’s more, as many as half of the stars in the universe may have been removed from their galaxies of origin and tossed into the hidden margin, which lies outside all galaxies.
For the experiment, researchers with NASA’s Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment shot a small telescope beyond the bounds of the atmosphere for minutes at a time. Attached to the rocket-device was a camera, which took clear shots of its location in near-infrared light, and then dropped back down to Earth. When it landed, scientists discovered a peculiarity in the universe’s diffuse background light: To their surprise, there was an overwhelming amount of missing stars.
Instead of wide, reddish light from distant galaxies, the scientists found the light was notably blue, meaning it was shining from a nearer place. And so, by “missing stars,” the study means stars that were never accounted for in the galaxies currently known. The group of stars is so distant and vague—they’re impossible to pinpoint individually. Their only way of detection, scientists say, is through a collective flare.
“I did not expect it to be half the stars — I thought that most stars would be in galaxies,” said Harvey Moseley, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who was not part of the study’s team. “It’s almost like they’re hiding.”
Before the paper’s findings – led by Michael Zemcov of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues – enthusiasts in the field long wondered about the descent of extragalactic background light, the diffuse light that steeps through the skies.
“There were some hints that there was some light in the background, and the question is … do we understand all of the processes that produced that light?” explained study coauthor James Bock, a Caltech experimental cosmologist.
Theories of what their presence mean range from the creation of an early universe, to stars that were taken from their heavenly homes after a galactic collision.
Altogether, the paper’s findings suggest that scientists may have to reevaluate ideas and theories surrounding galaxy formation. Or in other words, how the universe formed the immense anatomies and formations that exist today.
There have been four CIBER flights to date, with more to follow.