Article image

Webb telescope discovers mysterious features in the heart of our Milky Way galaxy

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured an extraordinary new image of Sagittarius C (Sgr C), a star-forming region near the center of the Milky Way. 

This breakthrough offers an unprecedented glimpse into the dense core of our galaxy and reveals numerous features that have never been seen before. The discovery prompted astronomers to explore new aspects of star formation.

Unique discovery in the Milky Way 

Samuel Crowe, the principal investigator of the observation team and an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, emphasized the uniqueness of this discovery. 

“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,” said Crowe. “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.”

Professor Jonathan Tan, one of Crowe’s advisors, noted: “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.”

Fascinating features 

Among the fascinating features observed are protostars, young stars in the process of formation. The image shows a cluster of these protostars, estimated to be about 500,000 in number, glowing amid an infrared-dark cloud. 

Notably, at the center of the cluster is a massive protostar over 30 times the mass of our Sun. The density of the surrounding cloud is so great that it blocks the light from stars behind it. The result is the region appearing less crowded than it actually is. The presence of smaller infrared-dark clouds suggests areas where future stars are forming.

Subjects of future research

The NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument on Webb has also captured significant emission from ionized hydrogen. This emission, which appears cyan-colored in the image, typically results from energetic photons emitted by young massive stars, explained Crowe. But, he noted, the vast extent of the region shown by Webb is something of a surprise that bears further investigation. 

Another intriguing aspect Crowe plans to study further is the needle-like structures within the ionized hydrogen, which appear chaotically oriented in various directions.

Extreme environment 

“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. He is a co-investigator of the project 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.”

Unprecedented opportunity 

The proximity of the galactic center, about 25,000 light-years from Earth, enables the Webb telescope to study individual stars in this region. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for astronomers to gather detailed information on star formation and how it may vary depending on the cosmic environment. 

A key question the experts hope to answer is whether more massive stars are formed in the center of the Milky Way compared to the edges of its spiral arms.

Crowe expressed his excitement about the potential scientific insights that could be gained from this image. 

“The image from Webb is stunning, and the science we will get from it is even better,” said Crowe. “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.”

More about Sagittarius C

As mentioned above, Sagittarius C is a lesser-known region in our Milky Way galaxy. It sits in the bustling heart of the galaxy’s center. This area, rich in astronomical phenomena, offers a fascinating look into the complex structures and dynamics of the Milky Way.

Characteristics of Sagittarius C

Sagittarius C is a complex radio source, emitting substantial radio waves that help astronomers understand the galaxy’s core. This region hosts a mix of interstellar gas, dust, and various celestial objects, contributing to its dense and active nature.

Sagittarius C plays a crucial role in the study of galactic centers. Its proximity to Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, makes it a valuable area for researching galactic dynamics and the behavior of black holes.

Research and discoveries

Recent studies of Sagittarius C have focused on mapping its structure and understanding its role in the Milky Way’s evolution. Astronomers use advanced telescopes and technology to penetrate the dense gas and dust, revealing the secrets hidden within.

The data gathered from Sagittarius C has significantly enhanced our understanding of the Milky Way. These insights include the distribution of interstellar matter, the mechanics of galactic cores, and the interactions between various celestial bodies in these dense regions.

Challenges and future prospects

Studying Sagittarius C presents numerous challenges due to its dense and complex nature. The region’s thick dust clouds and intense radio emissions require sophisticated equipment and methods for accurate observation and analysis.

Future research in Sagittarius C aims to unravel more about the formation and evolution of galaxies. With the advancement of technology, astronomers hope to gain deeper insights into this enigmatic region, furthering our understanding of the universe.

In summary, Sagittarius C, though not as well-known as other areas in the Milky Way, holds immense importance in astronomical research. Its unique characteristics and proximity to the galactic center make it a key area for understanding the complexities of our galaxy and the universe beyond.

Milky Way galaxy

The Milky Way galaxy is a vast and intricate barred spiral galaxy that is part of the Local Group of galaxies. It stands out for its distinctive structure, consisting of a central bulge, a bar-like feature extending from the core, and spiral arms that wind outwards. The galaxy spans an estimated diameter of 100,000 to 200,000 light-years and is believed to contain between 100 to 400 billion stars.

Sagittarius A*

At its heart lies the galactic center, dominated by a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*. This region is densely populated with stars and other celestial objects in rapid motion around the black hole. The area is a hotbed of astronomical activity, offering insights into the dynamics of galaxies.

Milky Way galaxy evolution

The Milky Way is not a static entity but is constantly evolving. Star formation continues to occur, particularly in the spiral arms and certain other regions where interstellar gas and dust are abundant. These areas are nurseries for new stars, adding to the galaxy’s complexity and beauty.

Location of the Milky Way galaxy

Our solar system is located in one of the galaxy’s spiral arms, known as the Orion Arm, situated about 27,000 light-years from the galactic center. This position offers a unique vantage point for observing and understanding the galaxy’s structure and composition.

Collision course

The Milky Way is on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy. This event, predicted to occur in about 4 billion years, will dramatically alter the structure of both galaxies. However, given the vast distances between stars, it’s unlikely that individual stars will collide.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and S. Crowe (University of Virginia)

Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day