The James Webb Space Telescope has captured an image of the dense center of the Milky Way, a chaotic region of space, NASA announced Monday.
The image shows Sagittarius C, a star-forming region located about 300 light-years from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A. Some 500,000 stars are visible in the image, including a cluster of baby stars still forming, called protostars. The protostars, which continue to gain mass, “glow like a bonfire in the middle of a dark cloud in the infrared,” according to NASA.
“There has never been infrared data on this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity that we are getting with Webb, so we are seeing many features here for the first time,” said Samuel Crowe, principal investigator of the observation team. “Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this type of environment in a way that was not possible before.”
What’s in James Webb’s new image?
One of the baby stars captured by the Webb telescope is a protostar with a mass more than 30 times that of the sun.
A dense cloud blocks light from reaching Webb, making the region of space shown in the image less crowded than it actually is.
“There are turbulent, magnetized clouds of gas that form stars, which then impact the surrounding gas with their winds, jets and radiation,” said Rubén Fedriani, co-investigator of the project at the Instituto Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. .
According to NASA, a previously unseen region of ionized hydrogen gas wraps around the dense dust cloud in the image. The space agency described “needle-like structures” in ionized hydrogen. They appear to be oriented chaotically in many directions. Crowe plans to examine them in more detail in future studies.
“Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their nuclear cores, so understanding them better is like learning the origin story of much of the universe,” Crowe said.
What do scientists hope to learn from the region of space?
The area, located about 25,000 light years from Earth, has a galactic center close enough for astronomers to study individual stars using the Webb telescope. NASA said it would give scientists access to unprecedented information about star formation.
“The galactic center is the most extreme environment in our galaxy, the Milky Way, where current theories of star formation can be put to their most rigorous tests,” said Jonathan Tan, professor in the Department of Astronomy. from the University of Virginia and one of Crowe’s advisors. .
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