The first stars lit up when the Universe was between 200 and 500 million years old, a team of British and American astronomers suggested on Wednesday.
The skygazers base their calculations on infrared images of very early galaxies found in deep space, close to the viewing limits of current telescopes.
The galaxies, found in the southern sky in the constellation of the Fornax (the Oven), are so far away that their light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us.
But it had probably already taken the galaxies about 300 million years to attain the shape that we see today.
The so-called Big Bang which created the Universe occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.
Extrapolating from these figures, the astronomers calculate that the "Dark Ages" - the period of utter darkness that followed the primal cosmic blast - ended after some 200 to 500 million years, when the first stars were born.
The research was presented Wednesday at a meeting in Birmingham, England, of Britain's Royal Astronomical Society, the RAS said in a press release.
The astronomers, led by Andrew Bunker of the University of Exeter, southwestern England, and graduate student Laurence Eyles, used data from two orbiting telescopes, the Hubble and the Spitzer.
They had their distance measurements confirmed by the biggest optical telescope in the world, the Keck, in Hawaii.
Last month, research announced by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) proposed that the Universe evolved into roughly its present form by the time it was five billion years old, far sooner than previously thought.
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