Such is taken who thought he was taking. The cosmic web spun by the Tarantula Nebula has been trapped by the James Webb Telescope. The images taken by the JWST reveal thousands of previously unobserved young stars.
Young stars, the Tarantula is not lacking. This nebula is the most important star nursery of our Local Group. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud 161,000 light-years from Earth, the Tarantula is home to the hottest and most massive stars known.
Observing this nebula in detail is therefore a godsend for learning more about the formation of stars. It is still necessary to pierce its veil of gas and dust. Three of the James Webb’s instruments have just succeeded in “erasing” these thick clouds.
The near-infrared camera NIRCam highlights within the nebula cavity (in the center of the image) a cluster of young massive stars which twinkle in blue. The denser dusty areas surrounding the cluster conceal forming protostars.
At longer wavelengths, such as those captured by the MIRI instrument, clouds glow brighter than stars. The rare luminous points that can be observed here and there within these clouds betray the presence of stars in gestation.
The James Webb Space Telescope penetrates the stunning Tarantula Nebula to spot a fledgling star
Lhe James Webb Space Telescope turned its infrared eyes to a nearby nursery of young stars, and it passed through the dust to observe a star in its early formation phase. These stunning images reveal thousands more young stars previously unseen and show the nearby Tarantula Nebula in impressive new detail.
Header image (click to enlarge): A 340 light-year mosaic, obtained by the Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) showing the star-forming region of the Tarantula Nebula, with tens of thousands of young stars that were previously hidden by cosmic dust. (NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)
Also known as 30 Doradus, the Tarantula Nebula is a star forming region located approximately 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. This relative proximity to Earth and the presence of the hottest and most massive stars known to science make the Tarantula Nebula a point of interest for astronomers studying star formation.
As it has done with other galaxies and celestial objects since its launch in July, the Webb Space Telescope now offers a never-before-seen view, this time of the Tarantula Nebula. Previous observations of this region have relied on other telescopes detecting shorter wavelengths of light, which have been obscured by dust from the nebula, leaving many of its young stars and other features out of view.
But thanks to its infrared cameras and its ability to detect longer wavelengths, the Webb Telescope is able to peer through the clouds to reveal new details within the Tarantula Nebula. These include thousands of young stars that scientists had never seen before, as well as a fascinating example of an emerging star that scientists had mistaken for an older example.
This new image captured by the Webb Telescope’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) shows a star emerging from its cocoon, a dusty protective cloud from which it formed. These clouds, seen as bright, clear “pillars” pointing toward the center of the Tarantula Nebula, are dense regions capable of withstanding the strong stellar radiation emanating from young massive stars, seen in blue. These powerful stellar winds blew up cavities in the Tarantula Nebula, as seen in the center.
The James-Webb Telescope captures the first direct image of an exoplanet
Most of exoplanets are detected and studied indirectly, notably by observing the oscillations of their host star under the effect of their gravitational influence, or the subtle variations in its luminosity when they pass in front of it. Imaging these worlds directly is much trickier, as the glow of the stars generally masks these smaller and much fainter objects.
the James Webb Space Telescope was specifically designed to counteract this phenomenon using an instrument called a coronagraph, acting as a sunshade to block out starlight without obscuring the planet. The device, together with its mid-infrared cameras and its position in deep space, far from any atmospheric interference, has recently offered astronomers an unprecedented glimpse into a distant world.
The exoplanet in question happens to be a gas giant located about 385 light years away. Much younger than our planet (it would be between 15 and 20 million years old), it has a mass six to twelve times greater than that of Jupiter, and orbits around its host star at a distance of about 92 times that separating the Earth from the Sun.
Described in a pre-published article on the ArXiv server, the new image shows HIP 65426b in four different bands of infrared light, captured by the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI). NIRCam imaged the planet at wavelengths of 3.0 micrometers and 4.44 micrometers (seen in purple and blue), which were 11.4 and 15.5 micrometers (in yellow and red) for MIRI.
PERFORMANCE EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS
The unprecedented clarity of such snapshots will reveal valuable new details about exoplanets. The researchers thus explain that they were able to estimate more precisely the mass of HIP 65426 b, which would be approximately 7.1 times greater than that of Jupiter.
While this is the first exoplanet directly imaged by Webb, it certainly won’t be the last, given that the telescope was specially developed to take these types of shots. According to the team, this first demonstration indicates that it performs this task up to ten times more efficiently than expected.
Thanks to this and his ability to characterize the composition of the atmosphere of exoplanets, James-Webb will allow us, in the years to come, to gain an unprecedented understanding of them, and to potentially identify the very first signs of extraterrestrial life.