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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

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

FDA panel endorses shot of J&J booster for adults

Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Members of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine expert panel on Friday unanimously endorsed a booster shot for adult recipients of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at least two months after the initial dose.

Why it matters: The advisory committee raised concerns about a dearth of data to support their decision but ultimately decided to support an additional shot for those over 18.

Capitol Police officer indicted for obstructing Jan. 6 investigation

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

A U.S. Capitol Police officer has been indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly helping hide evidence of a participant's involvement in the Jan. 6 riot.

Driving the news: Officer Michael A. Riley, 50, is accused of telling the unidentified participant, referred to as "Person 1," in the Jan. 6 riot to delete posts from Facebook, which showed them in the Capitol during the attack.

5 hours ago - World

British MP dies after being stabbed while meeting constituents

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

David Amess, a Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K., was fatally stabbed Friday while meeting with local constituents in a church in eastern England, according to AP.

The big picture: Police said a man, 25, was arrested for the stabbing in Leigh-on-Sea and is being held on suspicion of murder. A knife was also recovered at the scene, authorities said.