Webb telescope's new photo of the Tarantula Nebula caught thousands of never-before-seen baby stars
- Astronomers took a new image of the Tarantula Nebula with the James Webb Space Telescope.
- The nebula, also called 30 Doradus, is about 160,000 light-years away.
Astronomers focused the James Webb Space Telescope on the Tarantula Nebula, one of the brightest and most active star-forming regions in our galactic backyard, and found thousands of young stars they hadn't seen before, images released by NASA on Tuesday show.
The Tarantula Nebula, also called 30 Doradus, is an immense cloud of gas and dust about 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The nebula has birthed some of the hottest and most massive known stars, a few that are more than 150 times the mass of our sun.
To find out more about this stellar birthplace, astronomers trained three of Webb's high-resolution infrared instruments on it. By gathering infrared light, the $10 billion dollar telescope is able to cut through cosmic gas and dust, penetrating deeper into the cosmos than telescopes that use visible light.
Webb's new image of the nebula taken with the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), above, shows strands of gas that look like spider webs, "a burrowing tarantula's home, lined with its silk," according to NASA.
The image, which spans 340 light-years, shows distant galaxies in the background that look like fuzzy white dots. A cluster of massive young stars can be seen at the center of the image in sparkling blue. The space around the young stars is where gas has been cleared out by the stars' intense radiation and stellar winds.
Astronomers looked at the same region in longer infrared wavelengths detected by Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). In the above right image, "the hot stars fade, and the cooler gas and dust glow," NASA said. Webb's mid-infrared lens reveals tiny points of light, which are not fully formed stars, but protostars still in the process of forming in cocoons of dust, according to the NASA.
Using Webb's Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), astronomers also caught an emerging star being released from a cocoon of dust. When nascent stars form inside nebula, they are surrounded by cocoon-like pillars of gas and dust, which block visible light.
Astronomers believe the Tarantula Nebula belongs to our universe's distant past. It has a similar chemical composition to the gigantic star-forming regions observed at "cosmic noon" — a time period when the cosmos was only a few billion years old and star formation was at its peak. As Webb's new observations confirm, the nebula is still actively spawning stars.
Researchers hope Webb's observations will better their knowledge of how stars formed in the deep cosmic past, since their understanding still has gaps.
"Webb will provide astronomers the opportunity to compare and contrast observations of star formation in the Tarantula Nebula with the telescope's deep observations of distant galaxies from the actual era of cosmic noon," the Space Telescope Science Institute, the organization that manages Webb, said in a statement.
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