JWST sees a stunning hourglass of light around a still-forming star

 The James Webb Space Telescope captured an image of a star that is still forming, as well as a disc of debris that could eventually become planets.

A protostar is hidden within the hourglass shape's neck. NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI are among the organizations involved. J. DePasquale, A. Pagan, and A. Koekemoer processed the images (STScI)

A star is forming about 450 light years away. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) captured an image of a protostar - an object massive enough to become a star but has not yet begun the process of nuclear fusion - revealing previously unseen details.

This protostar is located in the Taurus star-forming region, within a dark cloud of dust and gas known as L1527. It is only about 100,000 years old, which places it in the early stages of star formation, where it is still slightly fluffy and lopsided. It will continue to compress under its own gravitational pull for the next few million years before fusing hydrogen into helium and becoming a full-fledged star.

The protostar is hidden behind a disc of dust and gas in the center of the glowing hourglass in the JWST image above, from which it will continue to feed as it grows and may eventually form a system of planets. This protoplanetary disc, roughly the size of our solar system, appears as a straight line across the hourglass's "neck," with light from the nascent star shining out above and below the disc to form the rest of the hourglass shape.

That light is infrared, so it would be invisible to the naked eye even from a close distance, but it fits neatly into the wavelength range used by JWST. The bright clouds in the image are caused by the protostar ejecting plumes of material that collide with the surrounding material, causing turbulence that prevents other stars from forming within the protostar's personal space. Observing this object and others like it will help us understand how stars form and entire planetary systems form.


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