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James Webb Space Telescope reveals previously unseen newborn stars: study

By Michael Lee

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    Toronto (CTV Network) — A study of early images taken with the James Webb Space Telescope has apparently revealed previously obscured newborn stars thousands of light years away from Earth.

Researchers say the images, taken with the near-infrared camera from the space telescope, which launched a year ago, show signs of two dozen previously unseen stars about 7,500 light years away from Earth.

Their findings were published in the December issue of the peer-reviewed Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“What Webb gives us is a snapshot in time to see just how much star formation is going on in what may be a more typical corner of the universe that we haven’t been able to see before,” Rice University astronomer Megan Reiter, who led the study, said in a news release.

Reiter and other researchers from the California Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, Queen Mary University in London and the United Kingdom’s Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, Scotland, analyzed a portion of images taken of what’s been dubbed the “Cosmic Cliffs,” a star-forming region in a cluster of stars called NGC 3324.

Using Webb’s infrared camera, which can look through clouds of interstellar dust that previously blocked astronomers’ views, including those of NGC 3324, the researchers say they could see jets of gas and dust emitted from the poles of young stars.

Through their work, they discovered outflows of molecular hydrogen, many appearing to come from protostars that may eventually form into low-mass stars similar to Earth’s sun.

The researchers say newborn stars, within their first 10,000 years, gather material from the gas and dust around them and eject a fraction of it from their poles in the form of jet streams. These jets then sweep up molecular hydrogen, which is needed for baby stars.

“Jets like these are signposts for the most exciting part of the star formation process,” study co-author Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona said. “We only see them during a brief window of time when the protostar is actively accreting.”

This “accretion period” is difficult to study since it usually occurs a few thousand years in the earliest portion of a star’s multimillion-year childhood, the researchers say.

Study co-author Jon Morse of the California Institute of Technology said about the discovery, “It’s like finding buried treasure.”

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