While parts of the world experience economic hardship, a team of Portuguese, UK, Japanese, Italian and Dutch astronomers has found an even bigger slump happening on a cosmic scale. In the largest ever study of its kind, the international team of astronomers has established that the rate of formation of new stars in the Universe is now only 1/30th of its peak and that this decline is only set to continue.
The accepted model for the evolution of the Universe predicts that stars began to form about 13.4 billion years ago, or around three hundred million years after the Big Bang. Many of these first stars are thought to have been monsters by today's standards, and were probably hundreds of times more massive than our Sun. Such beasts aged very quickly, exhausted their fuel, and exploded as supernovae within a million years or so. Lower mass stars in contrast have much longer lives and last for billions of years.
Much of the dust and gas from stellar explosions was (and is still) recycled to form newer and newer generations of stars. Our Sun, for example, is thought to be a third generation star, and has a very typical mass by today's standards. But regardless of their mass and properties, stars are key ingredients of galaxies like our own Milky Way. Unveiling the history of star formation across cosmic time is fundamental to understanding how galaxies form and evolve.