SYDNEY -- Astronomers have used a simple but high-tech antenna in the remote Western Australian outback to detect a radio signal from the earliest stars, according to a study published on Thursday.
The groundbreaking discovery about the dawn of the universe was observed when a team of American scientists detected tiny radio wave signals dating back to the birth of the first stars, according to the study in journal Nature.
"Finding this minuscule signal has opened a new window on the early universe," lead author Judd Bowman of Arizona State University said.
"It is unlikely that we'll be able to see any earlier into the history of stars in our lifetimes," Bowman said.
The scientists said the signals indicated that the first stars formed 180 million years after the Big Bang, the time when the universe began 13.8 billion years ago.
Following the Big Bang, the universe existed as a cold and dark expanse of hydrogen gas for millions of years.
Then, in the darkness, gravity pulled denser regions of gas together until the first stars were formed and emitted ultraviolet light, which was bright, blue and brief but too faint for current telescopes, and was absorbed by hydrogen gas.
The newfound signal, detected in the form of a dip in the intensity of radio waves because of the absorption by the hydrogen, was picked up at a low radio frequency by the antenna, and is the closest astronomers have come to seeing the "cosmic dawn."
"We see this dip most strongly at about 78 megahertz, and that frequency corresponds to roughly 180 million years after the Big Bang," Alan Rogers, the study's co-author from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.
The discovery made for the first time was done by using a small radio telescope at a radio-astronomy observatory in Murchison -- a pristine, radio-quiet area in Western Australia, 370 miles northeast of Perth -- which was tuned to detect the earliest evidence of hydrogen.