Webb telescope reveals secrets of star birth

(CNN) – “Majestic” images of a stellar nursery in the Orion Nebula captured by the James Webb Space Telescope reveal intricate details about star formation and planetary systems.

The images, published on Monday, shed light on an environment similar to that in our solar system when it formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. Observing the Orion Nebula will help astronomers better understand what happened during the Milky Way’s first million years of planetary evolution, astrophysicist Western Else Peters said in a press release.

“We are amazed by the wonderful images of the Orion Nebula,” Peters said. “We started this project in 2017, so we’ve been waiting over five years to get this data.”

“These new observations allow us to better understand how massive stars transform the cloud of gas and dust in which they were born,” Peters added.

The interior of the Orion Nebula as seen by the NIRCam instrument of the James Webb Space Telescope.

The cores of stellar nurseries like the Orion Nebula are obscured by large amounts of stardust, making it impossible to study what goes on inside them with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, which relies primarily on visible light.

However, Webb detects infrared light from the universe, allowing observers to see these layers of dust, and detecting motion going on inside the Orion Nebula, according to the release. These are the most detailed and clear images ever of the nebula, located in the constellation Orion, 1,350 light-years from Earth, and the latest view from the Webb Telescope, which began operations in July.


The Orion Nebula is imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope on the left and the James Webb Space Telescope on the right.

“Observing the Orion Nebula has been challenging because it is too bright for Webb’s never-before-seen devices,” said research scientist Olivier Bernier at the French National Center for Scientific Research at CNRS, in a press release.

New images reveal many structures within the nebula, including the thrusters, a central protostar surrounded by a disk of dust and gas in which planets form.

Webb Telescope captures a rare Tarantula Nebula postcard 0:35

“We’ve never been able to get a look at the fine, subtle details of how interstellar matter forms in these environments, and learn how planetary systems might form in the presence of this harsh radiation. These images reveal the interstellar legacy in ‘planetary systems,'” says Emily. Habart, associate professor at the Astrophysical Institute Spatial in France.

Also evident at the heart of the Orion Nebula is a trapezoidal group of young, massive stars that make up the dust and gas cloud with their intense ultraviolet rays, according to the press release. Understanding how this radiation affects the cluster’s environment is key to understanding the formation of star systems.

“Massive young stars emit large amounts of ultraviolet radiation directly into the original cloud that still surrounds them, and this changes the cloud’s physical shape as well as its chemical composition. It is not yet known exactly how this works and how it affects star formation and subsequent planet formation,” Peters said.

The images will be studied by an international collaboration of more than 100 scientists from 18 countries known as PDRs4All.

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