Image from NASA’s Webb telescope reveals early stellar formation in ‘rare’ find

The James Webb Space Telescope team announced Thursday that scientists had discovered dozens of energetic jets and outflows from young stars previously hidden by dust clouds in one of the $10 billion-dollar observatory’s iconic first images. 

In a release, NASA said that the “rare” find – including a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society this month – marks the beginning of a new era of investigating star formation, as well as how radiation from nearby massive stars might affect the development of planets.

The Carina Nebula’s Cosmic Cliffs, within the star cluster NGC 3324, is seen in a new wavelength with Webb and the telescope’s capabilities allow 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 revealed by molecular hydrogen. 

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Dozens of previously hidden jets and outflows from young stars are revealed in this new image of the Cosmic Cliffs from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). This image separates out several wavelengths of light from the First Image revealed on July 12, 2022, which highlight molecular hydrogen, a vital ingredient for star formation. Insets on the right-hand side highlight three regions of the Cosmic Cliffs with particularly active molecular hydrogen outflows. In this image, red, green, and blue were assigned to Webb’s NIRCam data at 4.7, 4.44, and 1.87 microns (F470N, F444W, and F187N filters, respectively).
(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI).)

Molecular hydrogen is a vital ingredient in stellar formation and a good way to trace the early stages of that process. 

“As young stars gather material from the gas and dust that surround them, most also eject a fraction of that material back out again from their polar regions in jets and outflows. These jets then act like a snowplow, bulldozing into the surrounding environment. Visible in Webb’s observations is the molecular hydrogen getting swept up and excited by these jets,” NASA explained. 

Objects were discovered: including “small fountains” and “burbling behemoths that extend light-years from the forming stars.”

Image of the Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), with compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference. The north and east compass arrows show the orientation of the image on the sky. Note that the relationship between north and east on the sky (as seen from below) is flipped relative to direction arrows on a map of the ground (as seen from above). The scale bar is labeled in light-years, which is the distance that light travels in one Earth-year. It takes 2 years for light to travel a distance equal to the length of the bar. One light-year is equal to about 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion kilometers. This image shows invisible near-infrared wavelengths of light that have been translated into visible-light colors. The color key shows which NIRCam filters that were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the visible light color used to represent the infrared light that passes through that filter. Webb’s NIRCam was built by a team at the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center.

Image of the Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), with compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference. The north and east compass arrows show the orientation of the image on the sky. Note that the relationship between north and east on the sky (as seen from below) is flipped relative to direction arrows on a map of the ground (as seen from above). The scale bar is labeled in light-years, which is the distance that light travels in one Earth-year. It takes 2 years for light to travel a distance equal to the length of the bar. One light-year is equal to about 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion kilometers. This image shows invisible near-infrared wavelengths of light that have been translated into visible-light colors. The color key shows which NIRCam filters that were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the visible light color used to represent the infrared light that passes through that filter. Webb’s NIRCam was built by a team at the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center.
(IMAGE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

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Previous observations of jets and outflows looked mostly at nearby regions and more evolved objects that are already detectable in Hubble’s wavelengths.

“The unparalleled sensitivity of Webb allows observations of more distant regions, while its infrared optimization probes into the dust-sampling younger stages. Together this provides astronomers with an unprecedented view into environments that resemble the birthplace of our solar system,” the agency noted.

What looks much like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously obscured areas of star birth.

What looks much like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously obscured areas of star birth.
(NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

Many of these protostars are set to become low-mass stars, like the sun.

This period of star formation, NASA added, is particularly hard to capture because it’s relatively fleeting.

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Webb’s observations are also help astronomers shed light on how active the star-forming regions are.

By comparing the position of previously known outflows in this region to Hubble data from 16 years ago, the scientists were able to track the speed and direction in which the jets are moving.

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