NASA is very sensitivehas captured an extremely detailed picture of thousands of young stars that have never been seen before in a region known as the Tarantula Nebula.
Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is about 160,000 light-years from Earth, the nebula, also known as the stellar nursery 30 Doradus, is a region of very active star formation, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA’s mosaic image of the nebula covers an area of 340 light years. Viewed with Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam), the area looks like the home of a burrowing tarantula. But it was actually named the Tarantula Nebula for its dusty filaments captured in previous telescopic images.
The nebula is home to the hottest, most massive stars known to exist. And it is of great interest to astronomers because, unlike our Milky Way, it produces new stars at a “furious rate”.
Studying the nebula also offers astronomers a unique insight into the past of our universe and how stars formed in the deep cosmic past. Although close to us, the chemical composition of the nebula is similar to the giant star-forming regions from when the universe was only a few billion years old and star formation was at its peak — a period known as the “cosmic noon.”
The bright blue stars seen in the image are responsible for creating the nebula’s cavity—located right in the center of the NIRCam image—with their own radiation.
“Only the densest surrounding regions of the nebula resist erosion by the strong stellar winds of these stars, forming pillars that appear to point back toward the cluster,” NASA said. These pillars contain young stars called “protostars”, which form in cocoons of dust.
Webb’s NIRCam caught a very young star still gathering mass in a cloud of dust and gas.
“Astronomers previously thought that this star might be a bit older and already in the process of clearing a bubble around it,” NASA said. “However, NIRSpec showed that the star had just begun to emerge from its pillar and still retained an insulating dust cloud around it. Without Webb’s high-resolution spectra at infrared wavelengths, this star formation episode in action would not have could have been revealed.”
NASA also used the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which is capable of penetrating deeper into the world than a telescope that uses visible light, to look at the nebula. MIRI revealed a very different side of celestial structure and a “previously unseen cosmic environment,” NASA said.
“Hot stars burn out and cooler gas and dust shine,” NASA said. “Within the nursery star clouds, points of light indicate embedded prostars, still gaining mass.”
Webb, a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, launched on Christmas Day last year after more than 20 years of development, and in July has launchedstunning of .
“Webb is already beginning to reveal a universe that has never been seen before, and is just beginning to rewrite the history of star formation,” NASA said.
Correction: This story has been updated to note that Webb started on Christmas Day, but it took several more months to start sending images.
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