The James Webb Space Telescope team announced Thursday that scientists have spotted dozens of energetic jets and outflows from young stars previously obscured by clouds of dust in one of the iconic first images from the $10 billion observatory.
In a press release, NASA said the “rare” find — including an article published this month in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society — heralded the start of a new era in the study of star formation and radiation from nearby massive stars marked could affect the evolution of planets.
The cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula within star cluster NGC 3324 are being seen in a new wavelength with Webb, and the telescope’s capabilities are allowing researchers to track the movement of other features previously captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Analyzing data from a specific wavelength of infrared light, astronomers discovered two dozen previously unknown outflows from extremely young stars visualized by molecular hydrogen.
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Molecular hydrogen is an essential part of star formation and a good way to follow the early stages of this process.
“As young stars collect material from the gas and dust surrounding them, most also eject a fraction of that material back out of their polar regions in jets and outflows. These jets then act like a snow plow and crash into the surrounding area. Visible in Webb’s observations is the molecular hydrogen being entrained and excited by these jets,” NASA said.
Objects have been discovered, including “small fountains” and “bubbling giants light-years from the forming stars.”
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Previous observations of jets and outflows mainly looked at nearby regions and more evolved objects already discernible in Hubble’s wavelengths.
“Webb’s unprecedented sensitivity enables observations of more distant regions, while its infrared enhancement advances into the younger stages of dust sampling. Together, this provides astronomers with unprecedented insight into environments resembling the birthplace of our solar system,” the agency noted.
Many of these protostars are expected to become low-mass stars, like the Sun.
This period of star formation, NASA added, is particularly difficult to capture because it’s relatively fleeting.
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Webb’s observations also help astronomers shed light on how active the star-forming regions are.
By comparing the location of previously known outflows in this region to Hubble data from 16 years ago, scientists were able to track the speed and direction the jets are moving.