The newest space telescope on the block has detected a glowing cosmic hourglass bursting with vibrant colors and hiding a fledgling star, or protostar, at its heart.
The glowing formation within the Taurus star-The region of formation and the protostar within it have been obscured 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 that examination of the cosmic hourglass will help illuminate the processes occurring around the protostar, which itself is hidden from view at the neck of the formation. The observations could also help explain how young stars reach adulthood, according to a statement of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, which operates the telescope.
The protostar within L1527 and the cause of these turbulent conditions is only 100,000 years old, a mere infant in cosmic terms. Its young age and infrared brightness make the star L1527 what astronomers call a class 0 protostar, marking the earliest stage of star formation. Class 0 protostars like this one are still shrouded 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 predominantly spherical but still unstable, and would appear as a small, “bloated” mass of hot gas with a mass between 40% and 20% that of the star. 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 on the neck of the hourglass. This structure forms as material is drawn into the center of the hourglass, allowing the protostar to feed on the disk, which is about the size of the Solar system.
As the young star accumulates mass to grow in size, the material will also compress the star, raising the temperature and pressure in the core enough to initiate nuclear fusion. Fusion transforms hydrogen in the star’s core into helium, generating power, and the timing marks an important step in the star’s development.
An antisocial protostar who shapes a lonely nursery
Although much of the surrounding material is fed into the protostar, allowing it to accumulate mass, the JWST image also shows filaments of molecular hydrogen that have been impacted by material ejected from the central protostar. This turbulence removes gas and dust, the raw materials for 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 because of possibly the most spectacular aspect of the image, the enormous hourglass shape itself. As light from the protostar filters above and below the protoplanetary disk, it illuminates cavities in the surrounding gas and dust carved out by the growing star.
Outlining these empty lobes are blue and orange clouds, with blue representing areas where dust is thinnest and orange marking where it is thickest. The astronomers assigned these colors because the thicker the dust, the more blue light is trapped, resulting in pockets of orange.
Furthermore, within the dark disk at the heart of the cosmic hourglass, material accumulates in pockets dense enough to eventually form planets. This means that the new view of L1527 provides a cosmic window through which we can look back, looking at what the sun and our planetary system might have looked like during their formative stages more than 4.5 billion years ago.