Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

Study: the Universe Has Almost Stopped Making New Stars 228

SternisheFan sends this quote from Wired: "An international team of astronomers used three telescopes — the UK Infrared Telescope and the Subaru Telescope, both in Hawaii, and Chile's Very Large Telescope — to study trends in star formation, from the earliest days of the universe. Extrapolating their findings has revealed that half of all the stars that have ever existed were created between 9 and 11 billion years ago, with the other half created in the years since. That means the rate at which new stars are born has dropped off massively, to the extent that (if this trend continues) 95 percent of all the stars that this universe will ever see have already been born. Several studies have looked at specific time 'epochs', but the different methods used by each study has restricted the ability to compare their findings and discern a fuller model of how stars have evolved over the course of the entire universe's lifespan."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Study: the Universe Has Almost Stopped Making New Stars

Comments Filter:
  • And... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:11PM (#41912535) Homepage Journal

    They stopped making new movies, about 2002.

    Now it's only remakes, re-boots, TV re-imaginings, and films based on children's toys.

    • I left out video-game franchise-derived movies...

      That's OK. It doesn't contradict the thesis that at every cosmic level, these are the thermodynamic end-times.

      Let's toast the 2nd law, everyone! I'm lighting a Cuban with a thousand-dollar-bill...

  • Maybe we should just wait for another 9 to 11 billion years to see if they're right?
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Perhaps it'll be sooner, thinks always calm down right up until the next mega-black hole inverts and then the whole things kicks over again. Depending on how close or far we are, we could get plenty of notice of the end coming, not much notice at all or get a safe but distant seat to the event, if it has already happened ;).

  • Fermis paradox (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fivethreeo ( 1421165 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:23PM (#41912657)
    Why we dont find any life out theere, the golden age of the universe might just be long passed. Might have been teeming at some point. Sorry no Star-Trek possible anymore.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      This doesn't address the question of where the stars came from in the first place. We don't have even a tiny tiny slice of the big picture yet, so any announcements about the impending doom of the universe are premature to put it mildly, even on astronomical scales.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by oodaloop ( 1229816 )
        Um, we know pretty well how stars are formed. Hydrogen gas is slowly drawn together from gravity, accelerates as it gets closer, and eventually sets itself on fire. with less and less hydrogen gas freely floating around, it makes sense fewer stars would be forming.
        • Re:Fermis paradox (Score:5, Informative)

          by Alamais ( 4180 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @11:35PM (#41915347)
          Er, no. Yes, it accumulates due to gravity, but it does not "set itself on fire due to acceleration": hydrogen fire (i.e. combustion) is a chemical reaction with oxygen (2 H2 + O2 -> 2 H2O). A 'star' is an accumulation of hydrogen until the pressure and heat due to self-gravitation are sufficient to allow sustained nuclear fusion to occur.
    • Life is out there, they just ran off and hid in black holes [] waiting for us to dig them out.
    • by mangu ( 126918 )

      Sad for the universe, but not for us. There's at least several billion years left when the universe is pretty much as it is today.

      In a hundred years or so we will start sending probes to other star systems. In a couple thousand years we will be actively exploring the galaxy.

      In a million years, who knows? A billion years? Wow!

      • Assuming we don't kill ourselves off, first, or get off this rock before chance does it for us.

        • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:10PM (#41913177) Journal

          The only ways to get off this rock are to understand ecologies well enough to be able to build a sustainable large-scale ecology with enough complexity to maintain human life, or to understand human minds well enough to upload ourselves into robots. To do the former, humans need to be Not Dead Yet, which means we have to be able to understand ecologies well enough not to poison ourselves before we've got a bunch of starships. So far, we haven't been able to build little model terrariums like Biosphere 2 without cheating, and we won't be able to build a colony on Mars (where you've got some resources to cheat with), much less outer space, until we can do one on Earth.

          So if you want to get off the planet, you've got to fix the planet first. Or, like, do the robot upload dance, and you're not getting me inside one of those things any time soon.

          • by tftp ( 111690 )

            Or, like, do the robot upload dance, and you're not getting me inside one of those things any time soon.

            Not any time soon, perhaps. However in the age of 95 most people would be begging for a robot body from their deathbed. It's not like they have many choices at that time...

          • by kesuki ( 321456 )

            actually uploading your brain into a computer doesn't offer immortality. for one thing, they can't power a computer that could adequately provide a perfect host for one human mind. secondly it would be very boring, since powering a second mind to interface the first is just as problematic. also there is the 128bit problem. attempting to address(fill) 128-bit memory uses enough calories to boil every ocean on earth. this means that the robotic mind has a huge problem since it would require some way to erase

            • This is pretty incomprehensible, but I'd just like to point out that many billions of computers capable of providing a perfect host for one human mind have been built. Each one consumes about 10-20 watts. It hasn't been done in silicon yet, but assuming it will require insane amounts of energy is not at all realistic.

      • For some reason, this [] comes to mind.

    • Fermi's Fallacy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by oGMo ( 379 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:05PM (#41913129)

      The Fermi Paradox [] assumes quite a few things which may not be true, such as interstellar travel being practical or desirable, life and intelligence being similar to our own, the fact we could actually spot it with our current techology (or that it would desire to be seen), and that artifacts of past civilizations would actually last for the millions of years between said civilization and our own.

      We are barely able to start seeing extrasolar planets. The idea that "if it's out there, we would have seen it" seems a bit silly for any number of reasons. For instance, noticing, here on earth, the tiny blip in time a civilization that might use radio waves seems unlikely. People who subscribe to the technological singularity [] might assume that any civilization with high enough technology would be incomprehensible to us; think of us trying to tune into a radio show (or look for smoke signals) when they're using the internet. I think the article above lists a few more.

      Star Trek may well not be possible as you say; that doesn't mean something better isn't.

      • There's also the fact that if we took the largest, most powerful radio telescope we have, put it on a planet orbiting our nearest star, pointed it directly at earth with the most powerful broadcast it could generate... by the time the signal got to us, there is no equipment on earth that could detect it. That should give you some idea of how insignificant our technology is on an interstellar scale. Faster than light travel is impossible, leaving your own solar system impractical at best. Traveling at even 1
        • Re:Fermi's Fallacy (Score:4, Informative)

          by Graymalkin ( 13732 ) * on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @11:08PM (#41915219)

          There's also the fact that if we took the largest, most powerful radio telescope we have, put it on a planet orbiting our nearest star, pointed it directly at earth with the most powerful broadcast it could generate... by the time the signal got to us, there is no equipment on earth that could detect it.

          That's completely false. If you took Arecibo and stuck it in orbit around Alpha Centauri and beamed a signal back it would be fairly easy to detect with an Arecibo-class telescope provided we were looking. For a little more on the math read up []. We could receive transmissions from dozens of light years away with existing telescopes and even further away with arrays and/or locations with better signal-to-noise ratios than available on planet (like the dark side of the Moon).

      • Re:Fermi's Fallacy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by marcosdumay ( 620877 ) <marcosdumay@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @09:32PM (#41914585) Homepage Journal

        The idea that "if it's out there, we would have seen it" seems a bit silly for any number of reasons.

        Yes, that idea is silly. The actual Fermi idea that "if there was life out there it would have colonized the entire galaxy already, and we wouldn't be here asking if there is life out there" holds a lot more of water.

        • by oGMo ( 379 )

          Same thing. The point is that they'd colonized the galaxy (one of the faulty assumptions), and we'd see them, or evidence thereof, and we don't, for any of the given reasons.

          Otherwise you'll have to come up with a really good reason why we wouldn't be asking or questioning their clear existence despite a lack of any observation or evidence.

        • Yes, that idea is silly. The actual Fermi idea that "if there was life out there it would have colonized the entire galaxy already, and we wouldn't be here asking if there is life out there" holds a lot more of water.

          I never understood how that held any water whatsoever. For the civilization who did do it, wouldn't that argument be just as valid? Why weren't they overran?

          And yet here we are. We may be about to be overrun or we may be about (5k years?) to overrun our galaxy. The Fermi Paradox is no paradox. The paradox has to assume that the universe has been in existence forever for the paradox to be a paradox; otherwise, the fact that numerous life forms are in a race makes MUCH more sense.

    • Silly. Assuming that intelligent life will inevitably use tools, build spaceships and give a rat's ass about talking to us at all is just parochial dumbness. For all we know, most smart creatures slap their awareness into genetically engineered fungi or moss whose spores drift around the universe and whose conscious lives are pain free, effortless and blissful. Minimal energy use. No machinery necessary. A near guarantee of racial survival. Human assumptions are unlikely to be what drives intelligence aroun

    • or....massive rates of star formation were not conducive for forming life so now is the golden age of life in the universe.

    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

      Bear in mind that even if this study is entirely true, that still leaves us a few billion years with most current stars. Billion years. Like, orders of magnitude larger than humanity's complete lifetime from primates to 21st century.

      Star Trek could happen thousands of times in that span.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've often casually thought about star formation when viewing images of planetary nebula like the Orion nebula. The captions/descriptions almost always mention that the nebula was the remnants of a star, and then point out areas of new star formation. But the math never really added up, since one nebula would have a bunch of stars and no explanation is usually given.

    I guess that's just a round about way of saying that I subconsciously expected the findings here to be true. It's nice that someone went to

    • Star explodes. Gas spreads out. Fast forward, gas is coalescing into smaller stars. Fast forward, larger stars are consuming their neighbors. Fast forward again, you have a small set of huge stars (or some large blackhole or something) that continues on, then explodes again, starting the sequence over again presuming no outside interference.

    • by Zephyn ( 415698 )

      It's not necessarily a "lose a star, gain a star" scenario.

      A nebula is the remnant of the supernova of a star at least 10x the mass of the sun, and we've found a few stars out there in the 100x or more category. Even with the core fusing elements all the way up to iron, there's still a lot of hydrogen outside the core that gets dispersed into the nebula when the supernova finally happens, so the formation of multiple smaller stars isn't out of the question.

    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      Star formation is generally by the concentration of dust and the subsequent increased densities by compression causing heat..
      Galaxies hold vast areas with dust where such star formation is taking place and yes at some stage this process will dry up.
      Other processes make old stars explode and cause new dust clouds, like our sun is not a first generation star but the condensation of such previous stars that ended in supernovae, that's why we have heavy elements in our solar system, they are typically formed
      • by tftp ( 111690 )

        Sparks fly from under the grinding wheel when I'm sharpening a drill bit. Consider that each such spark is an entire Universe, with its own laws of nature and its own civilizations. Do you think the sparks in the end will magically reform into new particles of silicon carbide and steel and stick back to where they came from? No, they just burn up and become dust.

    • When I've viewed images of the Orion Nebula, I tend to think about green women - not star formation.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <> on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:25PM (#41912691)

    I for one welcome our new entropic overlords. No (stellar) news is good news, right?

  • I guess it's time for the Universe to pay a visit to the fertility clinic? All that stellar sperm has gotten flung out all over the place instead of being deposited where it can do some baby-making. Somebody needs to teach the Universe how to stop pulling out and ejaculating all over the place.

  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:57PM (#41913037) Homepage Journal

    They're all hiding out in a black hole waiting for all those slacker main sequence dwarfs to die off. Damn pirates never contribute anything to the interstellar medium. Eliminate capital gains taxes now!

  • ....the god particle.. Quantum Physics and the observer effect.... god stopped producing...

  • by Slutticus ( 1237534 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:11PM (#41913203)
    for some reason this makes me incredibly sad.
    • Yeah, the first thing I thought of is "This is the saddest news I've heard in a while."

      (Which is silly, but being human is also silly, so...)

    • by Fubari ( 196373 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:52PM (#41914245)
      Fade to Black: The Night Sky of the Future [] is a slide show that considers the long term implications of cosmic expansion. Here's an excerpt from the introduction page.

      The night sky on Earth (assuming it survives) will change dramatically as our Milky Way galaxy merges with its neighbors and distant galaxies recede beyond view.
      The quickening expansion will eventually pull galaxies apart faster than light, causing them to drop out of view. This process eliminates reference points for measuring expansion and dilutes the distinctive products of the big bang to nothingness. In short, it erases all the signs that a big bang ever occurred.
      To our distant descendants, the universe will look like a small puddle of stars in an endless, changeless void.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        According to current theory, the universe inflated rapidly, then slowed to a gradual expansion, then began accelerating again. The dynamics behind this are completely unknown. And yet you do a naive linear extrapolation to forecast what will happen for periods up to 7000x greater than the current age of the universe.

      • Meh. Almost everything that we can see with our unaided eyes is within our own galaxy. Only telescopes and such will ever notice the diminished twinkling. I doubt anyone will care until our own galaxy (or merged galaxies) start to go dark.

    • we know stars will be burning for the next 10 to 100 trilllion years (10^13 to 10^14 years, not the UK trillion),

      of course most stars have already formed from the initial surplus of the big bang and the short lived first stars which were hundreds of times as massive as our sun. we're now in the age of long lived stars and less births. the good spot for life, with heavier elements.

      • The kid in me is fascinated with living forever as an ever-evolving robot, much like Ray Kurzweil hopes. I want to believe that the universe is ever-expanding and that I will be able to witness the birth of stars; that someday, an advanced AI me (and indeed us all) will see an amazing future for humans and meet new races, or maybe just travel the world doing all the things I've wanted to do. It's a silly dream - I realize this, but then even learning that Gliese 581 g is too far away to ever reach within a

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ArsonSmith ( 13997 )

      socialism does this. The motivation of the populaces to continue to be creative and to create is sucked out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:17PM (#41913287)

  • by BLToday ( 1777712 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:19PM (#41913321)

    This is what happens when God allowed the star makers to unionized. They get lazy and production drops.

    I'll be using this news to tell me wife why I'm just sitting on the couch and not doing house chores. I want minimize my contribution to the heat death of the universe.

  • INAS and haven't RTFA yet but it would seem to me that this shouldn't be a shock to anyone. This may be a simplistic way of looking at it but I give it a shot.
    If the universe is expanding it would seem that the ratio of globular clusters and the like where many stars are born to the amount of space from expansion would somewhat dilute the gravity needed to fuel star formation. So as the universe expands the effect on gravity on objects decreases and there for star formation grinds to a halt. Then again
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:23PM (#41913373)

    Do you know how much those things *cost* to build new. Jeez.

    • Well, we're running out the non-renewable natural resources they use for fuel. Clearly, somebody needs to invent the electric star.
  • Study: the Universe Has Almost Stopped Making New Stars

    Is there any hope at all, that this will lead to the demise of American Idol?

  • by Rudisaurus ( 675580 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:44PM (#41914155)

    “Look,” whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.)

    Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

    Arthur C. Clarke, The Nine Billion Names Of God, 1953

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:51PM (#41914229)

    95 percent of all the stars that this universe will ever see have already been born

    And since, based on all the studies we've done, the universe is flat... and therefor infinite... 5% * infinity is what? Infinity. So perhaps star formation will be less dense going forward, but I believe back when it was a lot more active, the universe was probably a lot less hospitable to those of us that don't find gamma ray bursts good for our health.

    We now know that the universe is flat with only a 0.5% margin of error. This suggests that the Universe is infinite in extent; however, since the Universe has a finite age, we can only observe a finite volume of the Universe.

    Source: []

  • I think this is pretty neat. I hope we as a race can soon learn more about why and how to effectively communicate/teach that to simple white collar desk workers like myself.

    This proves nothing about the long term generation of all stars everywhere though - this is a trend describing the stars in our universe, so it's an observation based on the restricted population of those stars within 13.75 billion light years of us in observed spacetime.

    I'm kind of curious what's outside that box. Let's fund that starsh

    • The edge of the "box" is billions of light years away and receding at a rate that makes reaching it practically impossible. It gets worse: your great^n grandchildren will look up into the night's sky and see nothing but their own galaxy.


  • The Universe is expanding so matter gets rarified as it expands. If you can't collect enough mass to create a star then stars stop forming. I'd be curious if Brown dwarfs have increased in numbers since they require less mass. It does set a limit for the age of the Universe. My guess is the last of the stars grow cold 20 to 30 billion years from now. In 10 billion the numbers will drop radically and in around 30 billion the last stars should fade. It doesn't mean the end just that stars will cease to be a f

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.