Reasons to Believe

Finding the Firstborn Stars

The big bang creation model—which the Bible uniquely described thousands of years before any astronomer did—predicts a hierarchy in star formation. Since the big bang creation event results in the universe’s ordinary matter being composed of 76 percent hydrogen, 24 percent helium, and a trace amount of lithium, the firstborn stars, at least initially, will be composed of these three elements.

Are Firstborn Stars a Myth?

A remaining challenge to the biblically predicted big bang creation model is that astronomers have yet to detect a star that is completely devoid of elements heavier than lithium. A few atheists and all young-earth creationist scientists have pointed to this lack of evidence to assert that the big bang model has failed. For example, in his book Refuting Compromise Jonathan Sarfati writes, “The total absence of these stars counts as a falsified prediction of big bang cosmology.”1

Astronomers respond to this alleged failure by explaining that the big bang creation model predicts that firstborn stars would be undetectable. In big bang creation models, the first stars would have formed more than 13.4 billion years ago. This means that if we want to observe them in their initial state, we must measure the spectra of individual stars more than 13.4 billion light-years away. Presently, no telescope exists with the power to measure the spectra of individual stars at that distance.

Predicting the Attributes of Firstborn Stars

All stars larger than several times the Sun’s mass explode at the end of their nuclear burning and, thus, salt the interstellar medium with their ashes. The more massive the star the faster it burns up its nuclear fuel and the sooner it explodes. Thus, the largest of the first generation stars relatively quickly pollute the interstellar medium. The second generation of stars incorporates these ashes when they form. These second generation stars compose the majority of stars in the universe. About 2 percent of their composition is comprised of elements heavier than hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Third-generation stars incorporate the ashes of exploded second-generation stars. About 3 percent of the composition of third-generation stars is comprised of elements heavier than hydrogen, helium, and lithium.

Astronomers refer to third-generation stars as Population I (Pop I) stars, second-generation stars as Population II (Pop II) stars, and first-generation stars as Population III (Pop III) stars. The Sun is a Pop I star. In big bang cosmology, life is only possible on a planet orbiting a Pop I star.

Some big bang creation models predict that all Pop III stars will be supergiant stars and will accordingly go through their entire burning phase in just a few million years or less. In these models all the still-shining Pop III stars are more than 13.4 billion light-years away and are consequently inaccessible with current telescope technology. However, many other big bang creation models predict that at least a few Pop III stars will not be supergiants. These stars with much lower masses can burn for billions of years. Therefore, they may be close enough that astronomers can detect them and measure their spectra.

However, these old Pop III stars will not be in their initial pristine state. Over their several-billion-year burning history their stellar atmospheres will have accreted a small quantity of heavy elements from the interstellar medium. This medium will be polluted by the ashes of exploded supergiant Pop III and supergiant Pop II stars. Yet, for low-mass Pop III stars that reside in regions of space where the density of stars is sparse, the pollution level will be so extremely low that there will be no doubt that astronomers are observing an old Pop III star (a.k.a. a Pop III survivor) rather than any kind of Pop II star.

Astronomers Locate Three Firstborn Stars

After a long and diligent search, astronomers have discovered three of these Pop III survivors. The one most deficient in heavy elements is SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 (SM0313). Roughly 75 percent the Sun’s mass, SM0313 is 13.6 billion years old, making it the oldest known star with an accurate age determination.2 Compared to the Sun, it has less than 30 millionth the density of iron.3 While iron was undetectable in the spectrum of SM0313, astronomers were able to detect calcium. SM0313 possesses 18.2 million times less calcium per unit mass compared to the Sun.4 This measure permitted a calculation of its iron abundance, which is 38 million times less iron per unit mass than the Sun.

The other two Pop III survivors, HE 1327-2326 and HE 0107-5240, respectively possess 500,000 and 250,000 times less iron per unit mass than the Sun.5 The astronomers focused on iron and calcium abundances since lighter elements, such as carbon and magnesium, are influenced by binary mass transfer and heavier elements are much too rare.

A team of Japanese astronomers placed these iron and calcium abundance measures into a cosmological context by developing a detailed theoretical model. They investigated the change of iron abundance on the surface of Pop III survivors through accretion from the interstellar medium in the framework of hierarchical star formation.6 Their calculations showed that Pop III survivors can accumulate up to 1/100,000th as much iron per unit mass as the Sun. It would be impossible for any Pop II star to possess so little iron. On this basis they concluded that any star possessing more than 100,000 times less iron per unit mass than the Sun must be a Pop III survivor.

Rather than big bang cosmology being refuted by the supposed lack of Pop III stars, it is now vindicated. The observational measurements and theoretical calculations described here establish that Pop III stars really do exist. When the James Webb Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes with mirror diameters exceeding 100 feet become operational, there will be a high probability of astronomers detecting not only many more Pop III survivors but also newborn Pop III stars in their initial pristine state.


  • For more information on the Bible’s description of the big bang creation model, please read chapter 13 of my book, A Matter of Days.

Subjects: Big Bang, Origin of the Universe

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.


  1. Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of Progressive Creationism, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), 161.
  2. S. C. Keller et al., “A Single Low-Energy, Iron-Poor Supernova as the Source of Metals in the Star SMSS J031300.36-670839.3,” Nature 506 (February 2014): 463–66, doi:10.1038/nature12990.
  3. Yutaka Komiya, Takuma Suda, and Masayuki Fujimoto, “The Most Iron-Deficient Stars as the Polluted Population III Stars,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 808 (August 2015), doi:10.1088/2041-8205/808/2/L47.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.