Astronomers have used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)’s groundbreaking new capabilities to image a young star forming—and glimpse what the solar system must have looked like when it formed 4.5 billion years ago.
Webb is humanity’s only telescope that can see deep into the infrared, stretched light that is invisible from Earth. The space telescope’s off-Earth view and its incredible sensitivities here allow it to peer through cosmic dust to reveal something not seen before—the formation of a new star a mere 100,000 years old in a cloud of gas and dust.
Located about in a star-forming region within the constellation of Taurus (just above the constellation of Orion), the young star L1527 itself is hidden from view, though Webb reveals for the first time the hourglass-shaped clouds of gas and dust it’s illuminating.
Look in the center of the image and you will see what looks like a disc. This is a protoplanetary disc, with a star forming in its center. It’s about the same size as our solar system. Above and below that desk are cones of gas and dust lit up by light leaking from the baby star.
The orange areas are where Webb is viewing the star’s leaked light stretched through thick clouds of dust, whereas the blue areas are less dusty. Ejections from the star have cleared out cavities above and below it.
Cocooned in the dark cloud of dust and gas, L1527 is at the earliest stage of star formation that astronomers see. The star itself is reckoned to be somewhere between 20-40% of the mass of the Sun.
So what happens next is? All that colour you can see represents material that will eventually spiral into the protoplanetary disc, feeding the growth of L1527. It will gain more mass and compress, the temperature of its core will rise. Then it will turn into a nuclear fusion reactor, hence generating its own energy and becoming a star.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.