10 James Webb space photos reveal cosmic nurseries where stars come to life

10 James Webb space photos reveal cosmic nurseries where stars come to life
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Collage of stellar nurseries
A very young star forming within the dark cloud L1527 (top left), the “Cosmic Cliffs” (top right), the Tarantula Nebula (bottom left), and the Chameleon I molecular cloud (bottom right).

  • NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has unlocked a window into our universe unlike any before.
  • Using its powerful infrared vision, JWST can peer into the hearts of stellar nurseries. 
  • JWST reveals how stars, planets, and potentially life itself, form in our universe. It’s beautiful.  

The James Webb Space Telescope is, in many ways, a time machine. It uses infrared vision to peer back over 13.5 billion years to the earliest moments of our universe.

But even now, the cosmos is expanding and evolving, giving birth to new stars, planets, and new possibilities for the emergence of life.

Stellar nurseries, where new stars bloom to life, are thick clouds of gas and dust, a.k.a. molecular clouds. JWST can see through the clouds to observe star formation in real-time, offering the unique chance to understand how new solar systems form and, ultimately, what makes our existence even possible.

“We can actually go into the nurseries and look at the babies instead of looking at this old, ancient, archaeological evidence from our own solar system,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and former JWST project scientist.

JWST’s observations of stellar nurseries across the galaxy have inspired a slew of scientific discoveries. But they’re also profoundly beautiful to look at.

The Cosmic Cliffs
Cosmic cliffs
“Cosmic Cliffs” was one of the first stellar nursery images captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. This image showcases Webb’s ability to peer through thick clouds of gas and dust to reveal young stars.

At first glance, this may look like a photo of a rocky mountain range beneath a starlit sky. But this is actually the edge of giant cavity inside a stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula located 8,500 light years from Earth.

Nicknamed the “Cosmic Cliffs,” this cavernous region is shaped by massive, hot young stars inside the cavity’s core. These stars emit powerful winds and radiation that, over time, have carved out this area.

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Protostar forming inside L1527
Protostar forming inside L1527
A very young star forming inside the dark cloud L1527, a region within the Taurus molecular cloud.

Turbulence deep within stellar nurseries creates high-density regions called knots. When these knots become massive enough, the gas and dust collapses in on itself and the material at its core heats up, forming a baby star, or “protostar.”

This is a close-up of a protostar forming inside the dark cloud L1527, a star-forming region within a larger stellar nursery called the Taurus molecular cloud about 460 light years from Earth. The protostar is hidden inside the “neck” of this hourglass shape.

This image clearly shows how ejections of wind and radiation from this very young star blow away surrounding gas and dust. The ejections glow orange and blue in this infrared view, giving the appearance of a fiery hourglass.

Protostellar outflow inside the Perseus stellar nursery
Protostellar outflow
Protostars emit powerful energetic jets of ionized gas. These jets collide with the surrounding gas and dust to create bright patches of nebulosity.

A look within the Perseus stellar nursery allowed JWST to capture another stunning image of protostellar outflow.

This is an example of a Herbig-Haro object, which forms when wind and gas emitted by newborn stars send shock waves colliding into surrounding gas and dust at high speeds. Molecules get excited by this turbulence and emit infrared light, which is the colorful glow that JWST photographed here.

The protostar is hiding in the black void at the center of these glowing shock waves, shrouded by a dark brown cloud of gas and dust.

Rho Ophiuchi
The Rho Opiuchi cloud complex
The Rho Opiuchi cloud complex is a relatively small, quiet stellar nursery only about 430 light-years from Earth.

Rho Opiuchi is the nearest stellar nursery to Earth, roughly 390 light years away.

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It’s relatively small and quiet compared to other star-forming regions, but this image showcases dramatic outflows from about 50 young stars as big, or smaller, than our sun, which you can see here as red clouds on the right amid the clouds in the center that glow green and orange from carbon-rich dust, Pontoppidan said.

The Tarantula Nebula
tarantula nebula
The bright patch at the center of this image is a cluster of baby stars nested inside the Tarantula Nebula.

This mosaic image of the Tarantula Nebula stretches 340 light-years across. JWST shows this stellar nursery in a totally new light, revealing thousands of never-before-seen young stars nestled in the center.

The Tarantula Nebula is particularly interesting to astronomers because its chemical composition is similar to the massive star-forming regions observed at the universe’s “cosmic noon,” when star formation was at its peak.

The Orion Bar
The Orion bar
This image of the Orion Bar may closely resemble what our solar system looked like during the earliest stages of its formation.

This region of the Orion Nebula is known as the Orion Bar. In this ridge-like region, ultraviolet light from the Trapezium cluster (a group of massive young stars in the upper-left corner of the image) erodes the surrounding molecular cloud.

Scientists are interested in observing this region of the Orion Nebula because it appears to resemble what our solar system may have looked like while it was still forming, Pontoppidan said.

The Chameleon I molecular cloud
Chameleon I molecular cloud
The infrared glow of protostar Ced 110 IRS 4 shines through the Chameleon I dark molecular cloud.

One of the building blocks of life is hiding in this image: water ice.

This is the center of the icy Chameleon I dark molecular cloud. Radiation from Ced 110 IRS 4, a young protostar glowing orange in the image’s upper left, illuminates the misty blue cloud material around it.

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In the background, light from more stars (orange dots behind the cloud) shines through. By studying this light, astronomers detected particles of water ice within the clouds, which may, one day, go on to form exoplanets with the conditions for life.

N79: a massive star-forming complex
N79
A bright young star shines from within N97, a massive star-forming nebula.

Nebula N79 is a huge star factory. It’s considered a younger version of the Tarantula Nebula, but it’s nearly five times larger, spanning 1,630 light-years across. And when it comes to birthing stars, N79 is twice as efficient.

In this image, a bright young star shines through the nebula, showcasing its six starburst spikes.

NGC 604: an emission nebula
NIRCam View NGC 604
This image of NGC 604 highlights how stellar winds from brightly burning young stars carve cavities into the surrounding gas and dust cloud.

The NGC 604 stellar nursery is an emission nebula: a cloud of ionized gas that emits its own light at various wavelengths. In this image, tendrils and clumps of emission appear in bright red, extending out from open “bubbles” in the cloud.

These bubbles were carved out by stellar winds from extremely hot, bright young stars within. In fact, NGC 604 holds more than 200 of the hottest, most massive kinds of stars in the universe, all still in their infancy. One example is O-type stars, which can be more than 100 times more massive than our sun.

In this way, NGC 604 is truly unique. There’s no other star-forming region like it in the whole Milky Way.

The Pillars of Creation
Pillars of Creation: Clouds of gas and dust resembling pillars stretch out against the starry backdrop of space
The youngest stars forming within the Pillars of Creation are only a few hundred thousand years old.

These are the Pillars of Creation, named for the long, vertical clouds of gas and dust that resemble the geologic arches and spires of a desert landscape. Photographed at this angle, they almost look like a human hand reaching out into the cosmos.

The pillars themselves are about five light-years tall. Inside them, knots of gas and dust collapse in on themselves to form new stars. Bright red, wavy lines at the edges of the pillars are ejections from newly forming stars.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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