James Webb telescope captures the hidden features of a young protostar

Its latest image gives us more insight on the formation of stars in the early stages.
The protostar L1527, shown in this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, is embedded within a cloud of material that is feeding its growth. Material ejected from the star has cleared out cavities above and below it, whose boundaries glow orange and blue in this infrared view. The upper central region displays bubble-like shapes due to stellar ‘burps,’ or sporadic ejections. Webb also detects filaments made of molecular hydrogen that has been shocked by past stellar ejections. Intriguingly, the edges of the cavities at upper left and lower right appear straight, while the boundaries at upper right and lower left are curved. The region at lower right appears blue, as there’s less dust between it and Webb than the orange regions above it.
NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale, A. Pagan, and A. Koekemoer (STScI)

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Mariella Moon
Mariella Moon|@mariella_moon|November 17, 2022 6:50 AM

The James Webb Telescope has been providing clearer images of celestial bodies that had only been poorly imaged in the past ever since it became operational. Its first photo showed the "deepest" image of the distant universe to date, followed by an unprecedented photo of the Pillars of Creation and the best view we've had of Neptune's rings, among many others. Now its latest image reveals the once-hidden features of a very young protostar within the dark cloud L1527, giving us a look into how stars form and turn into something like our sun. 

The photo above shows an hourglass-like figure blazing blue and orange. This can only be seen in infrared light and was captured using James Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). But where's the protostar, you ask? It's actually right in the middle, or the neck of the hourglass, showing up as a black band. Stars form by gathering massive amounts of gas and dust, which spiral around the center as they're sucked in by gravity. This forms an accretion disk of material that surrounds the young star. 

Meanwhile, the blue and orange "bulbs" actually outline the cavities created by the materials shooting away from the protostar and colliding with dust around the structure. NASA says the colors represent the layers of dust in between the dark cloud and James Webb. Areas with the thinnest layer of dust show up as blue. The orange areas represent places with the thickest layer of dust, since less blue light is able to escape them. 

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NASA says the 100,000-year-old protostar is at the earliest stage of star formation — our sun formed 4.6 billion years ago or so — and will give us an idea of what our solar system was like in its very early years. 

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James Webb telescope captures the hidden features of a young protostar