Hidden in the cosmic slopes behind clouds of dust lies a mysterious event that has intrigued astronomers for years – a ‘hotbed of star formation’. And now, thanks to NASA’s James Webb Telescope, you can also see how a star is born.
The cliffs, which NASA describes as a region of space located “at the edge of a giant gaseous cavity” within star cluster NGC 3324, have been studied for years. But it wasn’t until Webb’s telescope was able to spot it that astronomers found some finer details.
Still, NASA scientists found 24 previously unknown outbursts of young stars, revealing “a collection of objects ranging from tiny geysers to irritating light-years-long giants of forming stars.”
It is a hard fair to come by.
NASA said the “very early” formation of each star is “a relatively transient event — only a few thousand to 10,000 years in the middle of a star formation process of several million years.”
Webb was able to take a “snapshot in time,” said Megan Reiter, an astronomer and study leader, “to see how much star formation is going on in what might be a typical corner of the universe that we haven’t been able to see before.”
A study of the findings was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society this month.
The jets and outflows are essentially stellar discharges of space gases and dust left over from the formation of stars. They can be seen by the presence of molecular hydrogen, which is an essential component in the formation process. Previously, Hubble had only been able to see these ejections of more advanced objects that were present in the telescope’s visible wavelengths, but Webb has “unparalleled sensitivity,” allowing scientists to view the phases of smaller stars and gain “unprecedented insight into environments that resemble Birthplace. From our solar system.”
“Jets like these are signs of the most exciting part of the star formation process,” said study co-author Nathan Smith. “We only see them over a short period of time when the protostar is actively accreting.”
For team member John Morse, “It’s like finding buried treasure.”
“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 the data from each of the different filters and analyzing each region individually,” he said.
Many of the stars observed in this study are expected to become low-mass stars like our galaxy’s Sun. According to Reiter, astronomers will now have a better idea of where in space they can observe how “sun-like stars” appear.
“It opens the door to what would be possible in terms of looking at these clusters of infant stars in fairly typical environments of the universe that were invisible until the James Webb Space Telescope,” Reiter said.