A ‘buried treasure’ was hidden in this spectacular image by James Webb

One of James Webb’s first sublime images showed the Carina Nebula. Astronomers have dived into the depths of its cosmic cliffs and made a great discovery.

Something amazing was hidden in one of James Webb’s first spectacular images. A “treasure” was “buried” in the Carina Nebula, located 8,500 light years from us, immortalized by the JWST space observatory. NASA announced on December 15, 2022. _ _ form. 

For astronomers, observing such young stars is complex. As the space agency reminds us, “stars at this early stage of development are hidden in clouds of dust and gas”. Only sophisticated instruments, notably capable of seeing infrared light, can detect the trace of these stars in the making, especially at this very particular moment. This very early period in their development, which James Webb saw, is brief: it lasts only a few thousand years, over an entire process of formation that can last millions of years.

This is what happened to the Sun almost 5 billion years ago

What exactly do we see? We are in NGC 3324, the Carina Nebula. These “cosmic cliffs” are located at the edge of a gaseous cavity. The very young stars that form there “interact with their environment by absorbing matter and then ejecting some of it”, summarizes NASA. This ejected material forms jets, which help to heat the surrounding hydrogen. This is what produces the light that James Webb perceives.

On the right, are the areas studied in more detail by astronomers. Source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Astrophysicist Eric Lagadec, from the Côte d’Azur observatory, sums it all up in a few words: “We can see what happened to the Sun 4.6 billion years ago!”. Like all stars, the one at the heart of the solar system is not immortal. The Sun is currently in the middle of its life, which began under conditions comparable to those astronomers now see in the Carina Nebula.

Previously, these jets and flows had only been observed in nearby regions, through which the Hubble telescope was able to distinguish them. Thanks to James Webb, scientists can now dive into much more distant regions and gain insight into what must have been our solar system’s past.


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