NASA's James Webb Telescope captures fiery hourglass as new star forms
The James Webb Space Telescope has once again unveiled a spectacular image of the cosmos, this time revealing the once-mysterious features of a protostar or a young star.
The star was cocooned within a dark cloud named L1527, which made it difficult to view detailed features. In the Taurus star-forming region, these are only visible in infrared light, now perfectly captured by Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam).
In the process, Webb captured an hourglass shape of the beginning of a star. According to the release, "an edge-on protoplanetary disk is seen as a dark line across the middle of the neck. Light from the protostar leaks above and below this disk, illuminating cavities within the surrounding gas and dust."
In front of the bright center, a disc is seen as a dark band. It's usual for this material to clump together, forming planets.
Undoubtedly, the image is a peek into what our Sun and the solar system looked like at the beginning stages.
The protostar is only 100,000 years old
The image is other-worldly; ejections from the star have cleared out cavities above and beyond itself, with an orange and blue glow at its boundaries. Stellar "burps," or sporadic ejections, can be seen in the upper central region.
The colors are due to layers of dust between Webb and the clouds; while the blue areas are where dust is the thinnest, the thicker areas where less blue light is able to escape has pockets of orange.
As the protostar ejects material away, filaments of molecular hydrogen that have been shocked are revealed in the picture. These shocks hinder the formation of new stars, or else they would form throughout the cloud. Therefore, the protostar is the dominant entity here, taking most of the material.
Despite the turbulence caused by L1527, the protostar within it is very young in terms of its cosmic age. It is only about 100,000 years old and is considered a class 0 protostar, which is the earliest stage of star formation.
The protostar will eventually reach stable nuclear fusion
And therefore, they have a long wait before they become "full-fledged" stars. An essential characteristic of stars is that they generate their own energy through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen. L1527 hasn't reached that stage yet. Its unstable shape takes the form of a "small, hot, and puffy clump of gas somewhere between 20 percent and 40 percent the mass of our Sun".
The captured image shows the protostar gathering mass - as it does so, its core slowly compresses and reaches stable nuclear fusion. According to a statement, "The surrounding molecular cloud is made up of dense dust and gas being drawn to the center, where the protostar resides. As the material falls in, it spirals around the center. This creates a dense disk of material, known as an accretion disk, which feeds material to the protostar."
And as it compresses further and gains more mass, it will reach the threshold for nuclear fusion to begin, becoming a star.