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Ancient Glowing Space Dust

We may live in a bigger, dustier, more starry Universe than had been thought, according to new findings retrieved from old data collected by the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE).

Cosmic dust is strewn across deep space when stars explode. The orange-colored interstellar dust glows from all the stars that have ever warmed it which makes astronomers think of the glowing dust as a kind of fossil record of long dead stars. Clouds of dust may be shading from Earth's view up to two-thirds of all the starlight generated in the Universe.

Infrared Telescope

COBE operated from Earth orbit. Although an infrared telescope aboard the satellite scanned the outer reaches of the Universe back in 1990, it took astronomers until 1997 to filter out everything it recorded to see the faraway dust they sought.

COBE data showed that the dust is glowing too brightly to be lit by only 50 billion galaxies we can see. The rest of the light may come from distant, as-yet-unseen galaxies. There may be another hundred billion galaxies which can't be seen.

Most star birth may have taken place in dusty regions of the Universe. It might be that our Universe has two-thirds more stars than astronomers have estimated.

Big Bang

If true, researchers reflecting on the Big Bang Theory of the formation of the Universe would have a new handle on the total amount of energy in the observable Universe which could help them calculate more precisely how the Universe began and how stars and galaxies are born. Thus, the glowing dust may lead to answers to major questions about the Universe.

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