Jul 12, 2023 - Science

NASA's JWST reveals shining baby stars in new photo

The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex dotted with stars shining in red, white and green light seen by the JWST

Rho Ophiuchi seen by the JWST. Photo: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Klaus Pontoppidan and Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

A region of space full of newly forming stars 390 light-years from Earth shines in a new photo from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

Why it matters: The young stars in this image are all similar in mass to our Sun, allowing scientists to peer into what the early history of our nearest star likely looked like.

What's happening: The new photo, released in honor of one year of science operations with the JWST, shows the region Rho Ophiuchi, the closest star-forming region to Earth, according to NASA.

  • "The darkest areas are the densest, where thick dust cocoons still-forming protostars," NASA wrote in a statement.
  • Jets of molecular hydrogen — seen in red — are the result of baby stars bursting into being, shooting through their "natal envelope of cosmic dust, shooting out a pair of opposing jets into space," NASA added.
  • The bright cavity in the lower left portion of the photo was carved out by the star S1, the only star in the image that is more massive than the Sun.

How it works: This region of space would largely look dark and unimpressive to the naked eye, but the JWST's extreme power brings out the beauty of Rho Ophiuchi.

  • The telescope is able to cut through dust, revealing details hidden behind it by looking out into the universe in infrared light — wavelengths the human eye can't see.

The big picture: The JWST is already changing scientists' understanding of the universe, from the evolution of early galaxies to the compositions of alien planets' atmospheres.

  • "With a year of science under our belts, we know exactly how powerful this telescope is, and have delivered a year of spectacular data and discoveries," JWST senior project scientist Jane Rigby said in the statement.
  • "Webb's science mission is just getting started — there's so much more to come."
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