July 20, 2024

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James Webb takes a look inside the star nursery and discovers something we’ve never seen before

James Webb takes a look inside the star nursery and discovers something we’ve never seen before

For the first time, direct images have been taken of the emission of aligned protostars. This discovery supports the idea that stars, when they form from collapsing clouds of gas, tend to rotate in the same direction.

Astronomers directed the James Webb Space Telescope towards the Serpent Nebula, which is located about 1,300 light-years from Earth. This nebula is one or two million years old, which is just the blink of an eye in cosmic terms. As the telescope looked at this nebula, it discovered something special that finally confirmed theories about star formation.

Serpent Nebula
Below you can enjoy the new image of the beautiful Serpent Nebula. This nebula is home to a particularly dense cluster of recently formed stars (about 100,000 years old), which can be seen in the center of the image. Some of these stars will eventually reach the same mass as our Sun. “Webb is a great tool for finding young stars,” says researcher Joel Green. “In this region we found evidence of all young stars, even those with a smaller mass.”

The newly acquired image of the Serpent Nebula was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam). Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (NASA-JPL), Joel Green (STScI)

In this image, the filaments and filaments extending throughout the region represent reflected light from protostars still forming within the nebula. Some areas show a diffuse orange colored reflection due to dust scattering and reflecting light. The image was taken with the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Although it’s a beautiful image, the real discovery lies in the northern region (visible at upper left) of this young, nearby star-forming region.

Biased emissions
Astronomers have discovered a remarkable collection of protostar ejections here. These are formed when jets of gas from newborn stars collide with surrounding gas and dust at high speed. These emissions usually have different trends within a single region. But here they are all tilted in the same direction, like hailstones falling during a storm. The researchers identified these matching emissions thanks to Webb’s exceptional spatial resolution and sensitivity in the near-infrared. It gives us new insights into the basic principles of star formation.

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Star formation
Detecting these compatible emissions is special. It confirms existing theories about how stars see daylight. “Astronomers have long believed that when clouds of gas collapse to form stars, these stars tend to rotate in the same direction,” explains researcher Klaus Pontoppidan. “However, this has never been observed directly before. These compact, elongated structures provide evidence of the fundamental processes by which stars are born.”

rotation
You may be wondering how the alignment of the jets of gas and dust around the star relates to its rotation. This is the situation. When the interstellar gas cloud compresses itself to form a star, its rotation speed increases. A disk of material forms around the young star and acts like a vortex, pulling the material toward the center. The magnetic fields in this disk cause some material to be ejected in the form of twin jets that move perpendicular to the disk, in two opposite directions. In a web image, these flows appear as bright, block-like lines that appear red. This color indicates shock waves created when planes collide with nearby gas and dust. The red color indicates the presence of molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide in these areas.

Inconspicuous spots
The fact that we can now see this region of the Serpent Nebula so clearly is thanks to a powerful space telescope. “Thanks to Webb, we can now observe these very young stars and their emissions,” Green points out. “Previously, these objects were often seen only as faint spots, or even completely invisible at optical wavelengths due to the dense dust surrounding them.”

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Another trend
Detecting consistent emissions does not automatically mean that they will always remain consistent. They can lose this alignment over time due to various factors, such as interactions with nearby stars or gravitational perturbations within their environment. An example of this is when binary stars orbit each other. This could lead to a change in the trend of the emissions you produce. This means that the currently observed alignment may not be permanent and may change as conditions evolve.

chemical composition
The stunning new image and unexpected discovery of parallel emission is really just the beginning. The team will now use Webb’s NIRSpec (near-infrared spectrometer) to examine the cloud’s chemical composition in detail. Astronomers want to know how volatile chemicals survive star and planet formation. Volatile substances are compounds that sublimate, meaning they go directly from the solid state to the gaseous state at a relatively low temperature – like water and carbon monoxide. The researchers will then compare their findings with amounts found in protoplanetary disks around stars of similar types.

Why are researchers interested in this? “We are all basically composed of matter that comes from these volatiles,” Pontoppidan explains. “Most of the water here on Earth formed when our Sun was still a young protostar, billions of years ago. By looking at the abundance of these important compounds in protostars just before their planetary disks formed, we can better understand how unique the conditions were when they formed.” Our solar system The results thus contribute to a better understanding of the conditions that led to the formation of our solar system and highlight the ability of the Webb telescope to provide new and detailed insights into the formation of stars and planets.

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