Astronomers may have found the chemical traces of the one of earliest stars — born when the universe was just 100 million years old — that exploded in a “super-supernova.”

These first-generation stars, known as Population III stars, ended their lives in titanic supernova explosions that seeded the universe with chemical elements the stars had forged during their lifetimes. This material was then incorporated in the next generation of stars, planets and even us, which means that understanding how these earliest stars enriched the universe with heavy elements is vital to understanding its evolution over its 13.7-billion-year history.

But astronomers have been unable to find direct evidence of one of these earliest, Population III stars — until now.

A team of scientists used the 8.1-meter Gemini North telescope on the island of Hawai’i to analyze an extremely distant quasar, a superbright object powered by a massive black hole, as it was 13.1 billion years ago, when the universe was just 700 million years old, and found a cloud with a distinctive chemical signature surrounding the object.

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