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Heat from some of the first objects formed after the birth of the universe 13.7bn years ago has been detected by a US telescope in orbit around the Earth. The Spitzer space telescope is designed solely to detect heat - that is, infra-red radiation - from far-distant sources, but this latest discovery has pushed the technology to its limit.

Identifying this radiation is important because it provides new, if ambiguous, evidence of how the universe evolved after it was brought into being in the "Big Bang".

The Spitzer observations suggest that only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, clouds of dust and gas may have condensed to create the first galaxies, studded with stars 1,000 times bigger and brighter than our Sun. An alternativ

e theory is that these first structures were "black holes", regions of space where gravity is so intense that matter is sucked in and energy spat out as heat and light.

Alexander Kashlinsky of the Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the researchers analysing the Spitzer data, said: "Whatever these objects are, they are intrinsically incredibly bright and very different from anything in existence today." The Spitzer findings encourage hopes that our telescopes may soon be able to look back in time to the origin of time itself.