The James Webb telescope reveals new features in the heart of the Milky Way. This exploration holds the potential to provide astronomers with valuable insights into the early universe.
By utilizing its capability to observe the universe in infrared light, which is beyond the range of human vision, the space observatory has unveiled unprecedented details. NASA released an image on Monday showcasing the never-before-seen aspects captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Astronomers employed the telescope to observe Sagittarius C, also known as Sgr C, an active region of star formation situated approximately 300 light-years away from the galaxy's central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. It's worth noting that a light-year, equivalent to 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion kilometers), represents the distance a beam of light travels in one year.
"The image from Webb is stunning, and the science we will get from it is even better," said Samuel Crowe, principal investigator of the observations and an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia. "Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their nuclear cores, so understanding them better is like learning the origin story of much of the universe."
Examining the center of the Milky Way with the James Webb Space Telescope has the potential to offer valuable insights into the frequency of star formation in that region. Additionally, it could shed light on whether the galactic center is more conducive to the formation of massive stars compared to the spiral arms of the galaxy.
There's never been any infrared data on this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity we get with Webb, so we are seeing lots of features here for the first time. Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this sort of environment in a way that wasn’t possible previously.- Samuel Crowe
An illustration of what the Milky Way looks like
The image reveals around 500,000 stars, each varying in size and age. Within this stellar ensemble are protostars, characterized by dense accumulations of dust and gas in the process of evolving into fully-fledged stars. Notably, at the center of the cluster, there's a substantial protostar with a mass exceeding 30 times that of the sun.
These protostars emit luminous material, generating radiant spheres of light that emanate from the evolving formation, creating a striking contrast in the infrared depiction.
"The galactic center is the most extreme environment in our Milky Way galaxy, where current theories of star formation can be put to their most rigorous test," said Jonathan Tan, research professor of astronomy and one of Crowe’s advisers at the University of Virginia.
Moreover, the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) of the observatory captured ionized hydrogen emissions encircling the lower edge of the stellar region, portrayed in cyan within the image.
Scientists are currently engaged in unraveling the origins of the extensive volume of energized gas, surpassing the typical emissions associated with young massive stars. The needle-like structures within the ionized hydrogen, arranged seemingly without any discernible order, particularly fascinate the team of astronomers.
"The galactic center is a crowded, tumultuous place. There are turbulent, magnetized gas clouds that are forming stars, which then impact the surrounding gas with their outflowing winds, jets, and radiation," said Rubén Fedriani, coinvestigator of the project and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Instituto Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. "Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it."