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The Cosmic Dark Ages

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We live in the stelliferous era. Somewhere between 10 and 1000 billion trillion stars fill the observable universe with light. But there was a time before the first star ignited. A time we call the cosmic dark ages.

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Hosted by Matt O'Dowd
Written by Matt O'Dowd
Graphics by Aaron Havley
Directed by Andrew Kornhaber
Produced By: Kornhaber Brown

In astronomy we study things that are very far away. It’s a powerful challenge because even the brightest objects are almost impossibly faint when you view them from the other side of the universe. But there’s an up side. If the light from some space object took billions of years to get to us then we see that object as it was billions of years ago. In this way we can peer back in time and literally see the past in motion. In fact we’re able to see some of the first stars and galaxies to ever form. But if we look beyond, both in distance and in time, there is … nothing. Darkness. For the hundred million years or so between the formation of the first atom and the formation of the first star there were no light sources in the universe. These were the cosmic dark ages. It’s a period of cosmic history rarely discussed because it’s hellishly difficult to observe. Fortunately scientists are devilishly clever. So what do we know about the time before stars?

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