Engineering 101

Webb Space Telescope Finds Baby Stars

Rice University astronomers reviewed the first images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and saw telltale signs from two dozen previously unseen young stars approximately 7,500 light years from Earth.

The published research provides a glimpse of what Webb’s near-infrared camera will reveal. The team analyzed a portion of Webb’s first images of the Cosmic Cliffs, a star-forming region in a cluster of stars known as NGC 3324. NGC 3324 hosts several well-known areas of star formation obscured by dust in images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories. Webb’s infrared camera sees through the dust in such regions and detects jets of gas and dust spewing from the poles of very young stars.

They discovered two dozen previously unknown outflows of molecular hydrogen from young stars. The outflows range in size, but many appear to come from protostars that will eventually become low-mass stars like Earth’s sun. Within their first 10,000 years, newborn stars gather material from the gas and dust around them.

The accretion period of early star formation has been challenging for astronomers to study because it only lasts a few thousand years in the earliest portion of a star’s multimillion-year childhood. NASA (NAS 5-0312, NAS 5–26555), STScI, and a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship from the UK’s Royal Society supported this research.

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