When was the first life in the universe?

When did life start? Here on Earth, about a billion years after the Earth formed. But that’s here on Earth. What about out in the universe somewhere? Well, Abraham Loeb has an interesting take on it. Right now, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is about 2.7 Kelvin. That’s 2.7 degrees above absolute zero. But it wasn’t always there. The CMB is leftover radiation from the Big Bang. As the universe expands, the energy gets spread out and the tempeature decreases, and now it’s just 2.7 Kelvin.

But, at some point in the past, it had to be around room temperature. Somewhere above the freezing point of water. That means that a rocky planet out in space, far from a star, would still be warm enough to support life.

These conditions existed when the universe was 15 million years old. That’s about 13 billion years ago.

OK. We don’t know that there was life then. But we know that the conditions could have been right for it.

Supercomputer model of galaxy formation

The Illustris project at MIT has used supercomputers to model the universe in unprecedented detail. Their model shows the universe from 12 million years old to present day. It shows how regular matter and dark matter created early stars and galaxies. There are some places where the model doesn’t match what we observe, and this is where some interesting science will be done in the future.

Large scale projection through the Illustris volume at z=0, centered on the most massive cluster, 15 Mpc/h deep. Shows dark matter density (left) transitioning to gas density (right).

Hubble Telescope Reveals Deepest View of the Universe Yet

The Hubble Space Telescope is doing some more deep field exposures. In January they made one that lasted over 50 hours. This is letting them see objects that are over 12 billion light years away (the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).

These new deep fields (they’re calling them Frontier Fields)  are using gravitational lensing to augment the cameras on the Hubble. This first exposure will be improved in May, for over 100 hours of total light collecting time.

Because these frontier fields use gravitational lensing, with galaxy clusters acting as the lens, they can help map the various amounts of mass in the clusters. This will also help map out dark matter.