“Our work suggests that Segue 1 is the least chemically evolved galaxy known,” Simon said. “After the initial few supernova explosions, it appears that only a single generation of new stars were formed, and then for the last 13 billion years the galaxy has not been creating stars.”
Because it has stayed in the same state for so long, Segue 1 offers unique information about the conditions in the universe shortly after the Big Bang. Other galaxies have undergone multiple supernova explosions since their formation. The first supernovae to blow up, from the most massive stars, produce elements like magnesium, silicon, and calcium. Later explosions of smaller stars primarily make iron. Segue 1’s uniquely low iron abundance relative to other elements shows that its star formation must have stopped before any of the iron-forming supernovae occurred.
This truncated evolution means that the products of the first explosions in Segue 1 have been preserved. Intriguingly, very heavy elements like barium and strontium are nearly absent from Segue 1’s stars.
“The heaviest elements in this galaxy are at the lowest levels ever found,” said Anna Frebel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the leader of the team. “This gives us clues about what those first supernovae looked like.”
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