Using the images from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered 24 previously shrouded outflows from newborn stars in the ‘Cosmic Cliffs,’ a region within the stellar nursery NGC 3324.
This Webb image shows the Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within the stellar nursery NGC 3324. The image is divided horizontally by an undulating line between a orange-burgundy cloudscape forming a nebula along the bottom portion and a comparatively blue upper portion. Image credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / J. DePasquale, STScI.
NGC 3324 lies approximately 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina.
First catalogued by the Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826, this stellar nursery is located at the northwest corner of the Carina Nebula, one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky.
The Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, has long intrigued astronomers as a hotbed for star formation.
While well-studied by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, many details of star formation in the region remained hidden at visible-light wavelengths.
Webb’s infrared camera was built to see through dust in such regions and to detect jets of gas and dust that spew from the poles of young stars.
By analyzing Webb data from a specific wavelength of infrared light (4.7 microns), Rice University astronomer Megan Reiter and colleagues discovered 24 previously unknown outflows from extremely young stars in the ‘Cosmic Cliffs.’
The observations uncovered a gallery of objects ranging from small fountains to burbling behemoths that extend light-years from the forming stars. Many of these protostars are poised to become low mass stars, like our Sun.
“What Webb gives us is a snapshot in time to see just how much star formation is going on in what may be a more typical corner of the Universe that we haven’t been able to see before,” Dr. Reiter said.
This Webb image shows the Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within the stellar nursery NGC 3324. The image is annotated with three callouts to highlight the specific areas of shocks and outflows in the nebula. Image credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / J. DePasquale, STScI.
Within their first 10,000 years, newborn stars gather material from the gas and dust around them.
Most young stars eject a fraction of that material back into space via jets that stream out in opposite directions from their poles.
Dust and gas pile up in front of the jets, which clear paths through nebular clouds like snowplows.
One vital ingredient for protostars, molecular hydrogen, gets swept up by these jets and is visible in Webb’s infrared images.
“Jets like these are signposts for the most exciting part of the star formation process. We only see them during a brief window of time when the protostar is actively accreting,” said University of Arizona astronomer Nathan Smith.
The accretion period of early star formation has been especially difficult for astronomers to study because it is fleeting — usually just a few thousand years in the earliest portion of a star’s multimillion-year childhood.
“Jets like those discovered in the study are only visible when you embark on that deep dive — dissecting data from each of the different filters and analyzing each area alone. It’s like finding buried treasure,” said Caltech astronomer Jon Morse.
The findings were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Megan Reiter et al. 2022. Deep diving off the ‘Cosmic Cliffs:’ previously hidden outflows in NGC 3324 revealed by JWST. MNRAS 517 (4): 5382-5405; doi: 10.1093/mnras/stac2820
Source : Breaking Science News