Celestial fireworks surround a protostar  - Earth.com

Celestial fireworks surround a protostar 

Today’s Image of the Day features “celestial fireworks” captured by NASA’s James Webb Telescope. The photo reveals a young star in the earliest stages of its life cycle, known as a protostar, hidden inside the dark molecular cloud L1527.

A protostar and its parent cloud 

“Taken with Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument), this fiery hourglass marks the scene of a very young object in the process of becoming a star. A central protostar grows in the neck of the hourglass, accumulating material from a thin protoplanetary disk, seen edge-on as a dark line,” stated NASA.

“The protostar, a relatively young object of about 100,000 years, is still surrounded by its parent molecular cloud, or large region of gas and dust. Webb’s previous observation of L1527, with NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), allowed us to peer into this region and revealed this molecular cloud and protostar in opaque, vibrant colors.” 

Outflows carve an hourglass structure

According to NASA, both NIRCam and MIRI show the effects of outflows, which are emitted in opposite directions along the protostar’s rotation axis as the object consumes gas and dust from the surrounding cloud

“These outflows take the form of bow shocks to the surrounding molecular cloud, which appear as filamentary structures throughout. They are also responsible for carving the bright hourglass structure within the molecular cloud as they energize, or excite, the surrounding matter and cause the regions above and below it to glow. This creates an effect reminiscent of fireworks brightening a cloudy night sky.” 

“Unlike NIRCam, however, which mostly shows the light that is reflected off dust, MIRI provides a look into how these outflows affect the region’s thickest dust and gases.”

Fireworks around the protostar 

The blue areas that are covering most of the hourglass shape are filled with carbon-rich molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The red areas show the protostar itself, along with the thick dust and gas surrounding it. (Those sparkler-like red streaks are just a quirk of the telescope’s optics). 

Between these, MIRI shows a white region right above and below the protostar, which you don’t see as clearly in the NIRCam view. This area contains a mix of hydrocarbons, ionized neon, and dense dust, indicating that the protostar is ejecting this material far away as it feeds from its disk.

As the protostar ages and keeps shooting out energetic jets, it’ll start to consume, destroy, and push away much of this molecular cloud. Many of the structures we see now will gradually fade. Eventually, when it’s done gathering mass, this stunning scene will end, and the star itself will become more visible, even to telescopes that use visible light.

Image Credit:

NASA/ESA/CSA/ Space Telescope Science Institute 


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