Young Stars in the Early Stages of Formation are Revealed by NASA’s Webb

NASA’s Webb Space Telescope Discovers Young Stars in the Early Stages of Formation Numerous powerful jets and outflows from newborn stars that were previously concealed by dust clouds have been found by researchers performing a “deep dive” into one of Webb’s iconic initial photographs. The finding ushers in a new age of research into the formation of stars like our Sun and how radiation from nearby large stars may impact the formation of planets.

The Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within the star cluster NGC 3324, has long intrigued astronomers as a hotbed for star formation. While well-studied by the Hubble Space Telescope, many details of star formation in NGC 3324 remain hidden at visible-light wavelengths. Webb is perfectly primed to tease out these long-sought-after details since it is built to detect jets and outflows seen only in the infrared at high resolution. Webb’s capabilities also allow researchers to track the movement of other features previously captured by Hubble.

Young Stars in the Early Stages NASA’

This stunning view of the Cosmic Cliffs from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera reveals dozens of previously undetected jets and outflows from newborn stars (NIRCam). The First Image, which was shown on July 12, 2022, highlighted molecular hydrogen, an essential component for star formation. This image separates out a number of light wavelengths from that image.

Three areas of the Cosmic Cliffs with highly active molecular hydrogen outflows are highlighted in the insets on the right side of the image. Webb’s NIRCam data at 4.7, 4.44, and 1.87 microns were given the colors red, green, and blue to create this picture (F470N, F444W, and F187N filters, respectively).

Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI).

Young Stars in the Early Stages of Formation are Revealed by NASA's Webb
Young Stars in the Early Stages of Formation are Revealed by NASA’s Webb

Recently, scientists detected two dozen previously unidentified outflows from relatively young stars indicated by molecular hydrogen by examining data from a particular wavelength of infrared light (4.7 microns). A variety of objects, ranging from tiny fountains to gurgling behemoths that are light-years away from the generating stars, were discovered by Webb. Numerous of these protostars are on the verge of evolving into low-mass stars like the Sun.

Astronomer Megan Reiter of Rice University in Houston, Texas, who led the study, said: “What Webb provides us is a snapshot in time to observe exactly how much star formation is going on in what may be a more typical part of the universe that we haven’t been able to witness before.”

A crucial component in the creation of new stars, molecular hydrogen also serves as a superb early-star formation tracer. A portion of the material that young stars absorb from the gas and dust around them is often also ejected back out again from their polar regions in jets and outflows. Then, like a snowplow, these jets bulldoze into the surroundings. Nubia Z50 official images revealed | December 19 launch | Full Specification Review The molecular hydrogen being swept up and agitated by these jets may be seen in Webb’s observations.

“Jets like this serve as a guide to the most fascinating stage of star formation. Only when the protostar is actively accreting do we notice them, according to co-author Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Previous observations of jets and outflows looked mostly at nearby regions and more evolved objects that are already detectable in the visual wavelengths seen by Hubble. The unparalleled sensitivity of Webb allows observations of more distant regions, while its infrared optimization probes into the dust-sampling younger stages. Together this provides astronomers with an unprecedented view into environments that resemble the birthplace of our solar system.

Young Stars in the Early Stages of Formation are Revealed by NASA's Webb
Young Stars in the Early Stages of Formation are Revealed by NASA’s Webb

Reiter continued, “It opens the door for what will be feasible in terms of looking at these groups of young stars in very typical cosmic conditions that were unseen before the James Webb Space Telescope. Now that we are aware of where to go, we can investigate the factors that are crucial for the development of stars similar to the Sun.

Since the process of star formation takes millions of years and only lasts a few thousand to ten thousand years for each individual star, this early stage of star creation is particularly challenging to observe.

“In the image first released in July, you see hints of this activity, but these jets are only visible when you embark on that deep dive – dissecting data from each of the different filters and analyzing each area alone,” shared team member Jon Morse of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “It’s like finding buried treasure.”

In analyzing the new Webb observations, astronomers are also gaining insights into how active these star-forming regions are, even in a relatively short time span. By comparing the position of previously known outflows in this region caught by Webb, to archival data by Hubble from 16 years ago, the scientists were able to track the speed and direction in which the jets are moving.

This science was conducted on observations collected as part of Webb’s Early Release Observations Program. The paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in December 2022.

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

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