Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:
So here’s something intriguing: an observational signature from the very first stars in the universe, which formed about 180 million years after the Big Bang (a little over one percent of the current age of the universe). This is exciting all by itself, and well worthy of our attention; getting data about the earliest generation of stars is notoriously difficult, and any morsel of information we can scrounge up is very helpful in putting together a picture of how the universe evolved from a relatively smooth plasma to the lumpy riot of stars and galaxies we see today. (Pop-level writeups at The Guardian and Science News, plus a helpful Twitter thread from Emma Chapman.)
But the intrigue gets kicked up a notch by an additional feature of the new results: the data imply that the cosmic gas surrounding these early stars is quite a bit cooler than we expected. What’s more, there’s a provocative explanation for why this might be the case: the gas might be cooled by interacting with dark matter. That’s quite a bit more speculative, of course, but sensible enough (and grounded in data) that it’s worth taking the possibility seriously.
Let’s think about the stars first. We’re not seeing them directly; what we’re actually looking at is the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, from about 380,000 years after the Big Bang.