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The James Webb Space Telescope has looked into the heart of the Milky Way, unveiling new features and secrets within the chaotic region that could help astronomers uncover more details about the early universe.
The space observatory’s ability to view the universe in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, captured never-before-seen details in the image, which NASA released on Monday.
Astronomers used Webb to take a look at Sagittarius C, or Sgr C, an active star-forming region located about 300 light-years from the central supermassive black hole in the galaxy Sagittarius A*. A light year, equivalent to 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion km), is the distance a ray of light travels in one year.
“Webb’s image is amazing, and the science we will get from it is even better,” Samuel Crowe, the observations’ lead researcher and an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, said in a statement. “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.”
Studying the center of the Milky Way using Webb could provide insight into how many stars are forming there and whether massive stars are more likely to form near the center of the galaxy rather than in the spiral arms of the galaxy.
“There has 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,” Crowe said. “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.”
Young stars and dynamic emission
There are an estimated 500,000 stars twinkling within the image, all ranging in size and age. Among them is a cluster of protostars, or dense clumps of dust and gas that are still evolving and growing into full-fledged stars, including a massive protostar at the cluster’s center that is more than 30 times the mass of the Sun.
Protostars release glowing material, creating balls of light that emerge from the formation, which appear significantly dark in infrared light.
“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,” said Jonathan Tan, a research professor of astronomy and one of Crow’s advisors at the University of Virginia. In the current situation.
In addition, the observatory’s near-infrared camera detected ionized hydrogen emissions surrounding the lower edge of the stellar region, shown in cyan in the image.
Astronomers are still trying to determine what led to the creation of this huge amount of energetic gas, which exceeds what young, massive stars can normally release. The observing team is also fascinated by the needle-like structures within the ionized hydrogen that are arranged without any order.
“The center of the galaxy is a crowded, turbulent place. There are magnetized and turbulent gas clouds that form the stars, which then influence the surrounding gas with their flowing winds, jets and radiation,” said Rubén Fedriani, a co-investigator on the project and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain. ., as it stands now. “Webb has provided us with a large amount of data about this extreme environment, and we are just beginning to mine it.”