But what is really fascinating is that this oxygen can only have been produced in an even older group of stars that would have dispersed it when they died and blew themselves apart.
"The mature stellar population in MACS1149-JD1 implies that stars were forming back to even earlier times, beyond what we can now see with our telescopes", said Laporte.
They found both these emissions to have been shifted to longer wavelengths by the expansion of the Universe.
New observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) reveal the faint, telltale signature of oxygen coming from a galaxy at a record-setting distance of 13.28 billion light-years from Earth, meaning we are observing this object it as it appeared when the universe was only 500 million years old, or less than 4 percent its current age.
"Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the "Holy Grail" of cosmology and galaxy formation", said Professor Richard Ellis, senior astronomer at University College London. By establishing the age of MACS1149-JD1, the team has effectively demonstrated that galaxies existed earlier than those we can now directly detect. The presence of oxygen in MACS1149-JD1 therefore indicates that a previous generation of stars had already formed and died at an even earlier time. At the end of their lives, the stars exploded, spreading those elements through space.
To determine when these earlier stars were formed, the team used infrared data taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope and discovered that the observed brightness of the galaxy is well-explained by a model where the onset of star formation corresponds to only 250m years after the universe began. "We think it was a gradual event and so clearly it is going to take statistics to work out exactly when it happened".
That is a job for the VLT and Alma again, although astronomers have to be patient and wait their turn to use these facilities, especially Alma. Instead, ALMA, which is located in the high-and-dry Atacama Desert of northern Chile, is a radio telescope made up of 66 high-precision antennas that operate in ideal harmony. One question the scientists would like to answer is whether this galaxy has a super-massive black hole at its core. He also is a member of the ALMA research team. The VLT helped in studying the "spectral lines from hydrogen" and the Alma helped in studying the "spectral lines from oxygen".
Nicolas Laporte, a researcher at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom said, "This galaxy is seen at a time when the Universe was only 500 million years old and yet it already has a population of mature stars. Whereas in the case of no black hole, then the oxygen would be more dispersed", he told BBC News. These findings have been published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. Dr Takuya Hashimoto and Prof Akio Inoue led the Osaka Sangyo side.