NASA’s Webb reveals new features at the heart of the Milky Way

NASA’s Webb reveals new features at the heart of the Milky Way

The latest image taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows part of our galaxy’s dense center in unprecedented detail, including never-before-seen features that astronomers have yet to explain. The star-forming region, called Sagittarius C (Sgr C), is located about 300 light-years from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.

Image: Sagittarius C (NIRCam)

“There’s never been any infrared data in this region at the level of resolution and sensitivity that we get with Webb, so we’re seeing a lot of features here for the first time,” said lead researcher on the observing team, Samuel Crowe, an undergraduate at UCLA. University of Virginia at Charlottesville. “Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this type of environment in a way that was not possible before.”

Professor Jonathan Tan, one of Crow’s advisors at the University of Virginia, added: “The galactic center is the most extreme environment in our Milky Way Galaxy, where current theories about star formation can be put to the most stringent test.”


Among the estimated 500,000 stars in the image, there is a population of protostars — stars that are still forming and gaining mass — producing outflows that glow like fire in the middle of a dark infrared cloud. At the heart of this young cluster is a previously known massive protostar with a mass more than 30 times the mass of our Sun. The cloud from which the protostars emerge is so dense that light from the stars behind it cannot reach the Webb, making it appear less crowded when in fact it is one of the densest areas in the image. Smaller, dark red clouds are scattered throughout the image, looking like holes in the star field. This is where the stars of the future are formed.

Webb’s NIRCam (near infrared camera) instrument also captured widespread emission from ionized hydrogen surrounding the underside of the dark cloud, shown in cyan in the image. Crowe says this is usually the result of energetic photons emitted by young, massive stars, but the wide range of the region shown by Webb is a surprise worthy of further investigation. Another feature of the region that Crowe plans to examine further are the needle-like structures in ionized hydrogen, which appear randomly oriented in many directions.

“The center of the galaxy is a crowded, turbulent place. There are magnetized and turbulent gas clouds that form stars, which then affect the surrounding gas with their flowing winds, jets and radiation,” said Rubén Fedriani, a co-researcher on the project at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain. “We have a huge amount of data about this extreme environment, and we’re just starting to dig into it.”

Photo: Sagittarius C features

At about 25,000 light-years from Earth, the galactic center is close enough to study individual stars using the Webb telescope, allowing astronomers to gather unprecedented information about how stars form, and how this process may depend on the cosmic environment, especially compared to regions The other. Galaxy. For example, do more massive stars form in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, compared to the edges of its spiral arms?

“The image Webb took is amazing, and the science we will get from it is even better,” Crowe said. “Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their nuclear cores, so understanding them better is like knowing the origin story of much of the universe.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s leading space science observatory. Webb solves the mysteries of our solar system, looks beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and explores the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. WEB is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Media communication

Laura Betz –, Rob Gautreaux–
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Leah Ramsay, Christine Pulliam

Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland.


Download full resolution images for this article From the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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