The block’s newest space telescope spotted a blazing cosmic hourglass filled with vibrant color and hiding a fledgling star, or protostar, at its heart.
The flamboyant formation within Taurus star-the formation region and the protostar it contains have been hidden from telescopes by a dense, dark cloud of gas and dust known as L1527. The formation is only visible in infrared light, making it an excellent target for the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) aboard the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST).
Astronomers hope examining the cosmic hourglass will help shed light on the processes happening around the protostar, which itself is hidden at the formation’s neck. The observations could also help explain how infant stars reach adulthood, according to a statement from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, which operates the telescope.
The protostar in L1527 and the cause of these turbulent conditions is only 100,000 years old, a mere child in cosmic terms. Its young age and infrared luminosity make the star L1527 what astronomers call a Class 0 protostar, which marks the earliest stage of star formation. Class 0 protostars like this are still locked in the clouds of gas and dust from which they form, and are still a long way from becoming full stars.
Currently, the shape of the protostar is mostly spherical but still unstable, and would resemble a small, hot, “puffy” cluster of gas with a mass between 40% and 20% of the Sun.
While the protostar is hidden, the image reveals a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust around the star, which appears as a dark line through the neck of the hourglass. This structure forms when material is pulled towards the center of the hourglass, allowing the protostar to feed off the disk, which is about the size of the solar system.
As the fledgling star accumulates mass to grow, the material also compresses the star, increasing the temperature and pressure in the core enough to trigger nuclear fusion. Fusion turns hydrogen from the star’s core into helium, generating energy, and this moment marks a major milestone in the star’s development.
An antisocial protostar shaping a lonely nursery
Although much of the surrounding material is funneled into the protostar, allowing it to gather mass, the JWST image also shows filaments of molecular hydrogen that have been shocked by material thrown from the central protostar. This turbulence removes gas and dust – the raw material of stars – and thus prevents other stars from being born around the protostar, allowing it to effectively dominate this region of space.
Astronomers know without seeing the protostar that it is present in arguably the most dramatic aspects of the image, the massive hourglass shape itself. As light from the protostar escapes above and below the protoplanetary disk, it illuminates cavities in the surrounding gas and dust carved out by the growing star.
These empty lobes are highlighted by blue and orange clouds, with blue representing areas where the dust is thinnest and orange marking where it’s thickest. Astronomers assigned these colors because the thicker the dust, the more blue light is trapped, giving rise to orange pockets.
Moreover, in the black disk at the heart of the cosmic hourglass, matter clumps together in pockets dense enough to eventually form planets. This means the new view from L1527 provides a cosmic window through which we can look back, observing what the sun and our planetary system might have looked like during their formative stages more than 4.5 billion years ago. of years.