The James-Webb telescope captures Orion’s nursery of stars

The James-Webb telescope captures Orion’s nursery of stars

The James-Webb telescope captures Orion’s nursery of stars

The Orion Nebula as seen by the James-Webb Space Telescope (false colors).

This time, its giant mirror, 6.5 meters in diameter, turned towards the Orion Nebula: the James-Webb space telescope of American, European and Canadian agencies continues to amaze astronomers and the public with the images it sends from the its observation post located more than 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.

On 12 September the PDRs4All program, co-directed by the French Olivier Berné (of the Astrophysics and Planetology Research Institute, in Toulouse) and Emilie Habart (of the Space Astrophysics Institute, in Paris-Saclay) and by the Belgian Els Peeters (from the University of Western Ontario, Canada) has published never-before-seen details of Orion, the closest stellar nursery to us in our galaxy, about 1,350 light-years from Earth.

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In this region the stars are born within the numerous filaments that structure the image and that move according to the stellar winds. The brown structure that blocks the image and evokes the flight of an eagle with the “head” made of a shining star, is a front of matter formed by gas and dust. This area is on the border between a bluish side, where ultraviolet radiation from the star cluster at the center of the nebula ionizes hydrogen and pushes matter outward, and a region of dust, radiation-resistant hydrocarbon molecules ( rather green on the image).

“Globes” and white spots

Circled in red, the star that forms the eagle’s head appears to create its own nebula around it, pushing matter towards the periphery. “This glow, probably due to the diffusion of light on the dust, evokes that of certain sunsets”says Olivier Berné.

The nebula seen by Hubble (left) and James-Webb (right).
The nebula seen by Spitzer (left) and James-Webb (right).

Even the team of astronomers immediately noticed this by zooming in on countless numbers “globules”small white spots in the nebula, shaped like a jellyfish, Venetian mask, head, etc., which are protoplanetary disks, or “proplyds”, that is, an accumulation of matter around a young star, site of the appearance of future planets. “The dimensions are only ten astronomical units, the size of our solar system. James-Webb had never seen one before “testifies Olivier Berné, a specialist in these regions, similar to those that our solar system was at its birth.

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“We are satisfied. The details of the image give an incomparable three-dimensional view “, appreciates Emilie Habart. The differences with the space telescopes Hubble (which observes the visible) or Spitzer (in the infrared) are indeed eloquent. James-Webb “sees” through the dust and locates the stars that have remained hidden by Hubble until now. He also sees ten times sharper than Spitzer, which allows small objects such as protoplanetary disks or filaments of matter to be studied in detail.

cascades of matter

A second “bonus” image was also presented, showing an area a few light years further north than the previous one. The same dynamic phenomena are observed in this type of matter cascade: cold hydrocarbon matter (in green), heated hydrogen gas (in blue) and, in red, probably hot dust. Even the more or less young stars, depending on the color, illuminate the scene.

Northern region of M42, the Great Orion Nebula, observed with the NIRCam A detector, the infrared camera of the James-Webb Space Telescope.

These images, in false colors, taken by the NIRCam instrument, James-Webb’s infrared camera, were produced by graphic designer Salomé Fuenmayor, who assembled fourteen telescope shots made in different infrared filters, therefore invisible to the naked eye. Colors correspond to the radiation of different compounds, but it is too early to precisely associate a color with specific chemical elements such as hydrogen, molecular hydrogen, hydrocarbons, dust …

For this reason, astronomers are waiting to receive and study other data from the same region, the exact composition, for almost every pixel of the image, of the light emitted in every wavelength (or color). This information is the only one that will allow us to accurately identify the light sources, their composition, their temperature, their evolution … This will be the key to understanding the mysterious interaction of stellar radiation with the surrounding matter, but also the the formation of new generations of stars, stars, or even the carbon cycle (with molecules that heat up, disintegrate, cool down, etc.). In view, the writing of complete scenarios for the emergence of planetary systems like ours.

Read also: A first image of an exoplanet released by the James-Webb telescope, “a turning point for astronomy”

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