Scientists find ‘buried treasure’ in image from NASA’s Webb Stellar Telescope
Thanks to NASA’s highly advanced James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers are taking a closer look at one of the observatory’s most fascinating early images and marveling at what they’ve discovered.
Scientists pointed Webb’s infrared instruments at so-called “cosmic cliffs” in theand, more specifically, star cluster NGC 3324. The resulting images were part of the very first batch of observations we saw from the new telescope in July, but now researchers have analyzed the data more closely and found a crop of newborn stars in a rarely seen stage of development.
The Hubble Telescope has observed this corner of the universe in the past, but Webb’s infrared eyes allow him to see through clouds of dust and gas for the first time to discover dozens of energetic jets of matter from young stars.
“Jets like these are signposts for the most exciting part of the star formation process. We only see them for a brief window of time when the protostar is actively accreting,” explained researcher Nathan. Smith of the University of Arizona, in a statement.
Comparison of images from the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes: see the difference
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This window is only a few thousand years out of the several million it takes for a star to form completely. It’s a bit like Hubble allowed us to spy on a stellar nursery across the cosmos, but Webb let astronomers open the doors of that nursery to get a glimpse of how nuclear-powered newborns at inside grow and develop.
Smith is co-author of an article describing the discovery published this month in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“In the image first released in July, you see hints of this activity, but these jets are only visible when you go into this deep dive – dissecting data from each of the various filters and analyzing each zone alone,” added team member Jon. Morse by CalTech. “It’s like finding buried treasure.”
The researchers say the discovery could usher in a new era of better understanding of how stars like our sun form and how all the radiation from star formation in turn affects the development of nearby planets.
This is all incredibly useful knowledge in deciding where to focus our search for other Earth-like worlds that might harbor life.