The James Webb Space Telescope’s “breathtaking” photographs of a stellar nursery in the Orion Nebula are revealing intricate information about how stars and planetary systems develop.
According to a news release from Western University astrophysicist Els Peeters, observation of the Orion Nebula will help space scientists better understand what transpired during the first million years of the Milky Way’s planetary evolution. The images, released on Monday, shed light on an environment similar to our own solar system when it formed more than 4.5 billion years ago.
“The Orion Nebula’s stunning sights have left us speechless. We began this study in 2017, therefore it has taken us more than five years to obtain these data, according to Peeters.
According to Peeters, “these new discoveries help us better grasp how huge stars change the gas and dust cloud in which they are born.”
Large volumes of stardust cover the interiors of stellar nurseries like the Orion Nebula, making it impossible to examine what is happening there with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope that primarily use visible light.
Infrared light from the universe is detected by Webb, allowing astronomers to see past these layers of dust and expose the activity taking place deep within the Orion Nebula, according to the press release. The photographs, the most recent from the Webb telescope, which started functioning in July, are the most precise and sharp of the nebula, which is located in the Orion constellation 1,350 light-years from Earth.
According to research scientist Olivier Berné at CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research, “Observing the Orion Nebula was a challenge because it is very bright for Webb’s unprecedented 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.”
The new photographs reveal a variety of formations within the nebula, including proplyds, which are protostars with planet-forming discs around their centres.
“These images reveal the heritage of the interstellar medium in planetary systems,” said Emilie Habart, an associate professor at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS) in France. “We have never been able to see the intricate fine details of how interstellar matter is structured in these environments, and to figure out how planetary systems can form in the presence of this harsh radiation.”
The trapezium cluster of young massive stars in the centre of the Orion Nebula, which shapes the cloud of dust and gas with its intense ultraviolet radiation, is also plainly visible, according to the news release. Understanding the effects of this radiation on the cluster’s surrounds is essential to comprehending how star systems are formed.
How precisely this works, and how it affects subsequent star and planet formation is not yet well understood, according to Peeters. “Massive young stars emit large quantities of ultraviolet radiation directly into the native cloud that still surrounds them, and this changes the physical shape of the cloud as well as its chemical makeup.
PDRs4All, a global cooperation of more than 100 scientists from 18 nations, will study the photos.