Using these results, the scientists were able to measure how many stars were formed over most of cosmic history.
The key to measuring EBL is through blazars, according to Finke.
“Blazars are super massive black holes that generate gamma rays,” said Finke. “These gamma rays interact with background light from stars that converts the gamma rays into pairs of particles.”
Gamma rays are the most energetic form of light. Each individual gamma-ray photon, or particle of light, seen by Fermi has energy billions of times more than the photons seen with the human eye.
“By determining how many gamma rays are missing from our observations and how many get transformed by interacting with starlight, we can measure how much of the starlight there is,” said Finke.
This process was done for a very large blazar sample, spread out over many different distances. Fermi’s Large Area Telescope is especially suited to measuring the blazars’ gamma rays and interactions with EBL.
“There is nothing else that can measure gamma rays like Fermi can in this energy range,” said Finke of the telescope’s capabilities.
This was the first measurement of the star formation history with gamma rays over such a large range of cosmic time. The recent measurement was also able to constrain the formation of the first stars in the universe, opening the door for future research projects according to Finke.
“The first stars formed in the very early universe were thought to re-ionize the universe, making the hydrogen in the universe go from mostly neutral to being mostly ionized,” said Finke. “Understanding that process is a major goal of the upcoming mission for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.”
The study shows that mapping the history of the stars helps NRL and other space scientists learn more about the universe’s past, while providing valuable information for space exploration in the future.
Fermi is supported by NASA and the Department of Energy in the US, with important contributions from institutions in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden. The current research was led by Marco Ajello, Vadehi Paliya, and Abeshik Desai at Clemson University, Alberto Dominguez at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, Kari Helgason at the Max Planck Institut für Astrophysik (now at the University of Iceland), and Finke at NRL.