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“Breathtaking” Webb images to reveal the mysteries of star birth

"Breathtaking" Webb images to reveal the mysteries of star birth
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“Stunning” images of a star-forming site in the Orion Nebula captured by the James Webb Space Telescope reveal intricate details of how stars and planetary systems form.

The images released Monday illuminate an environment similar to our own solar system when it formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. Observing the Orion Nebula will help space scientists better understand what happened in the first millions of years of the planetary evolution of the Milky Way, Western University astrophysicist Els Peeters said in a press release.

“We are overwhelmed by the stunning images of the Orion Nebula. We started this project in 2017, so we’ve waited more than five years to get this data,” said Peeters.

“These new observations allow us to better understand how massive stars transform the cloud of gas and dust in which they are born,” Peeters added.

The inner region of the Orion Nebula as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope's NIRCam instrument.

The hearts of stellar nurseries like the Orion Nebula are obscured by large amounts of stardust, making it impossible to study what’s going on inside with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, which rely primarily on visible light.

However, Webb detects the infrared light of the cosmos, which allows observers to see through these layers of dust. Revealing the action taking place deep inside the Orion Nebula, the press release says. The images are the most detailed and sharpest images of the nebula – located 1,350 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Orion – and the latest result from the Webb telescope. which went into operation in July.

“Observing the Orion Nebula was challenging because it is very bright for Webb’s unprecedentedly sensitive instruments. But Webb is incredible, Webb can observe distant and faint galaxies, as well as Jupiter and Orion, which are some of the brightest sources in the infrared sky,” said research scientist Olivier Berné of CNRS, the French national center for scientific research, in the press release.

The new images reveal numerous features within the nebula, including Proplyds – a central protostar surrounded by a disk of dust and gas in which planets are forming.

“We have never been able to see the intricate fine details of how interstellar matter is structured in these environments and figure out how planetary systems can form in the presence of this harsh radiation. These images reveal the legacy of the interstellar medium in planetary systems,” said Emilie Habart, associate professor at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS) in France.

Also clearly visible in the heart of the Orion Nebula is the Trapezoidal Cluster of young massive stars, which form the cloud of dust and gas with their intense ultraviolet radiation. Understand how this radiation affects that of the cluster Environment is key to understanding the formation of star systems.

“Massive young stars emit large amounts of ultraviolet radiation directly into the native cloud that still surrounds them, and this changes the cloud’s physical shape as well as its chemical composition. Exactly how this works and how it affects further star and planet formation is not yet known,” said Peeters.

The images are being studied by an international collaboration of more than 100 scientists in 18 countries known as PDRs4All.

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