A stunning new image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) shows a massive star factory located in a nearby galaxy in vibrant colors and stunning detail.
The orange, yellow and blue image taken by the powerful space telescope shows the interstellar atomic hydrogen of the 1,630 light-years-wide nebula N79, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. This region is actively forming stars and remains almost unexplored by astronomers.
N79 is the younger sibling of another recent JWST target in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the Tarantula Nebula, located about 161,000 light-years from Earth.
Despite their similarities, scientists believe that over the past 500,000 years, N79 has been forming stars at twice the rate of the Tarantula Nebula, officially known as 30 Dorados.
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Studying condensed star birth regions like N79 with the James Webb Space Telescope allows scientists to learn about the composition of star birth clouds of gas and dust in the early universe, when star formation was at its most intense.
See star formation more clearly with the James Webb Space Telescope
The new JWST image focuses on three giant complexes of cold atomic gas called molecular clouds, which comprise what astronomers call N79 South, or S1.
One of the most striking aspects of the image is the “starburst” pattern surrounding the N79’s bright core. This effect is created by diffraction spikes generated by the JWST’s 18 primary mirrors as they collect light. These mirrors are arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb-like pattern, which means there are six main diffraction spikes.
These diffraction spikes arise when the James Webb Space Telescope studies particularly bright, compact objects that have light emanating from a focused location. So, when the $10 billion telescope looks at galaxies, even ones that may appear very small, the light is coming from more diffuse and diffuse sources, which means the diffraction pattern is absent.
The James Webb Space Telescope captured the new image of N79 using the mid-infrared (MIRI) instrument. Visible light is easily absorbed by these dense dust clouds, but long-wave infrared light passes more easily. So MIRI’s infrared view allows astronomers to delve deeper into this star-forming region.
As a result, the James Webb Space Telescope is also able to see young stellar objects still trapped in their natural womb of gas and dust. These stars, called “protostars,” have not yet accumulated enough material from this shell to become massive enough to fuse hydrogen with helium in their cores, the process that defines what a star is.
The young star just starting this process can be seen as the brightest point amid billowing orange clouds of gas and dust in the JWST N97 image.
The JWST observations of N79 are part of the telescope’s powerful mission, which (in part) involves examining the evolution of disks and envelopes of material surrounding stars at different stages of their evolution.
It is hoped that, as part of this mission, the James Webb Space Telescope will help astronomers get their first look at planet-forming disks of material surrounding young, Sun-like stars, thus providing them with a picture of how our solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago. since.