Astronomers have caught a first-ever glimpse of gas clouds as they existed just a few minutes after the big bang, the Los Angeles Times reports. These clouds—long gone by now, but still visible to us—contain lighter elements like hydrogen and helium, which condensed into stars during the first few hundred million years of the universe. These stars "must have looked very different from stars formed today—they would be much bigger and very short-lived," an astronomer says.
The stars eventually forged heavier elements through nuclear fusion, then exploded and spread throughout the universe—seeding fresh gas clouds that eventually became the stars we know today. Scientists are a little rattled by the find, saying they thought such early gas clouds had dispersed too long ago to be visible. Maybe, they say, they'll have to reevaluate how matter moves between galaxies and throughout the universe.