NASA’s James Webb Telescope Discovers Star Formation In Dusty Ribbons Of A Cluster

NASA’s James Webb Telescope Discovers Star Formation In Dusty Ribbons Of A Cluster

NGC 346, shown here in this image from NASAs James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA’s James Webb telescope, described as the world’s most powerful telescope, captured some stunning images of our universe last year, captivating space enthusiasts. Now, the telescope has found a star formation in a dynamic cluster that lies within a nebula 200,000 light years away, as per the American space agency.

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) star-forming region NGC 346 is one of the most dynamic in nearby galaxies. The SMC is a dwarf galaxy close to the Milky Way with lower metal concentrations. Since metals, which are heavier than hydrogen or helium, make up the majority of space dust grains, scientists predicted that there would be little dust and that it would be challenging to detect. However, the data released by the space agency states the opposite.

Margaret Meixner, an astronomer at the Universities Space Research Association and principal investigator of the research team said in a press release,  “A galaxy during cosmic noon wouldn’t have one NGC 346 like the Small Magellanic Cloud does; it would have thousands” of star-forming regions like this one. But even if NGC 346 is now the one and only massive cluster furiously forming stars in its galaxy, it offers us a great opportunity to probe conditions that were in place at cosmic noon.”

By observing protostars that are still forming, scientists can assess whether the star formation process in the SMC varies from what is observed in the Milky Way. The primary focus of earlier infrared observations of NGC 346 was protostars with masses greater than five to eight times that of the Sun.

NASA states that as stars form, they collect gas and dust from the surrounding molecular cloud, “which appears as ribbons in Webb imagery.” Astronomers have previously detected gas around protostars in NGC 346 but the telescope’s near-infrared observations are the first to detect dust in these discs.

“We’re seeing the building blocks, not only of stars, but also potentially of planets,” said Guido De Marchi of the European Space Agency, a co-investigator on the research team, in a press release. He continued, “And since the Small Magellanic Cloud has a similar environment to galaxies during cosmic noon, it’s possible that rocky planets could have formed earlier in the universe than we might have thought.”

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