Constructed using nine years of observations by Fermi’s Large Area Telescope, this map shows how the gamma-ray sky appears at energies above 10 billion electron volts. The plane of our Milky Way galaxy runs along the middle of the plot. Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. Image: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Clemson University scientists, relying on imagery from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, claim for the first time to have measured all of the starlight ever generated throughout the history of the observable universe.

By the numbers: According to the new data, which was published in the journal Science on Friday, the number of photons — particles of visible light — emitted by stars amounts to 4 times 10 to the 84th power.

  • Or, to put it another way, the researchers tallied up 4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 photons.

Why it matters: The new study provides insight into the history of star formation over much of the universe's 13.7 billion year lifetime. Specifically, the research helps measure the extragalactic background light, which contains information about stars' history dating back to the early history of the universe. This is a scientific breakthrough, since previous attempts have been stymied by the faintness of distant galaxies and inability of telescopes to detect such faint light.

  • In addition, getting a better idea of the history of star formation will inform future missions that aim to look at the early history of our universe, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, currently scheduled to be launched in 2021.

The big picture: According to a press release accompanying the new study, while the number of photons is extremely large, most of the visible light that reaches Earth is dim, given the large size of the universe. Much of the visible light, the release states, is "equivalent to a 60-watt light bulb viewed in complete darkness from about 2.5 miles away."

What's next: “The first billion years of our universe’s history are a very interesting epoch that has not yet been probed by current satellites,” Ajello said. “Our measurement allows us to peek inside it. Perhaps one day we will find a way to look all the way back to the Big Bang. This is our ultimate goal.”

Go deeper: Scientists trace neutrino to source outside our galaxy

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Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill McConnell urges White House not to strike stimulus deal before election.
  2. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  3. Health: Studies show drop in COVID death rate — The next wave is gaining steam — The overwhelming aftershocks of the pandemic.
  4. Education: Schools haven't become hotspots — San Francisco public schools likely won't reopen before the end of the year.

Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a vote on Republicans' $500 billion targeted COVID-19 relief bill, a far less comprehensive package than the $1.8 trillion+ deal currently being negotiated between the Trump administration and House Democrats.

Why it matters: There's little appetite in the Senate for a stimulus bill with a price tag as large as what President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been calling for. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) "skinny" proposal was mostly seen as a political maneuver, as it had little chance of making it out of the Senate.

The hazy line between politics and influence campaigns

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The recent firestorm over the New York Post’s publication of stories relying on data from a hard drive allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden shows the increasingly hazy line between domestic political “dirty tricks” and a foreign-sponsored disinformation operation.

Why it matters: This haziness could give determined actors cover to conduct influence operations aimed at undermining U.S. democracy through channels that just look like old-fashioned hard-nosed politics.