James Webb Space Telescope: Colorful image of a budding star

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured an impressive image of a star in the making, revealing previously unseen features. As the Space Telescope Science Institute explains, the protostar L1527 is in the middle of the truly dark dust cloud. The structures become visible in infrared light, making them an ideal research target for the NIRCam instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope. Thanks to the coloring, thinner and denser layers of dust become visible on the image. The protostar, which is only about 100,000 years old, cannot be seen directly, only its impact on the matter around it.

The areas most noticeable on the infrared image appear in the false colors of blue and orange. They outline cavities that form when the emerging star ejects material into space, the researchers explain. In the blue areas this material is particularly thin, the more orange the color, the denser the matter. You can also see molecular hydrogen here. Meanwhile, turbulence caused by the protostar prevents more stars from forming somewhere in the dust, the research team explains. The class 0 protostar therefore dominates the events.

However, it will take some time before L1527 becomes a real star, so far it has not generated any fusion energy. Its shape is currently mostly spherical, but still unstable. It is a “small, hot and bloated blob of gas” with about 20 to 40% of the mass of the sun. In the future, the material will continue to attract and increase in mass until fusion ignites. Infalling material will be forced into a circular orbit and may become a protoplanetary disk in which exoplanets may eventually form. Overall, the image shows a galaxy similar to the solar system once.

The James Webb Space Telescope is operated by the space agencies NASA, ESA and CSA and was launched on December 25, 2021. After a complex self-expansion procedure, it arrived at the L2 Lagrange point a month later. Here it faces away from the sun, earth and moon into space so that their heat radiation does not interfere with the infrared telescope. A huge protective screen blocks them.

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Since the scientific work started in early July, the quality of the data has fascinated not only the research community. The first recordings are currently being published immediately. The goal is for the scientific community to learn how to make the best use of the new observatory and its instruments.


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