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Starburst spikes seen exploding from nebula N79 are 1630 light-years long

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a stunning image of nebula N79, which is inside an H II region of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a neighboring galaxy to our own Milky Way.

This image, focused on the nebula known as N79, offers a unique view into a massive star-forming complex.

N79, spanning an impressive 1630 light-years, is located in the LMC’s largely uncharted southwest region.

Nebula N79: Stellar nursery in great detail

Interestingly, N79 is often compared to a younger version of the famed 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, another subject of Webb’s recent observations.

In addition, N79 has been found to possess a star formation efficiency twice that of 30 Doradus over the past 500,000 years. This fact alone makes N79 a significant area of study for astronomers.

The image from Webb zeroes in on one of the three giant molecular cloud complexes within N79, specifically the southern complex, affectionately termed N79 South (or S1 for simplicity).

The starburst enigma

One of the most striking features in this image is the ‘starburst’ pattern emanating from this bright object. These are diffraction spikes, a common artifact in telescopes that use mirrors, such as Webb.

In this case, the hexagonal symmetry of Webb’s 18 primary mirror segments gives rise to six prominent starburst spikes.

It’s important to note that these patterns are particularly noticeable around very bright, compact objects. In contrast, galaxies, which appear smaller and are more diffused, do not exhibit such patterns.

Cosmic chemistry of Nebula N79

The capabilities of Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) are on full display in this image. At the longer wavelengths MIRI captures, the glowing gas and dust of N79 are vividly revealed.

Mid-infrared light penetrates deeper into the clouds, unlike shorter wavelengths, which are more likely to be absorbed or scattered by dust.

This view even allows us to see some protostars still embedded within the nebula.

The study of star-forming regions like N79 is crucial for astronomers. Their chemical composition bears a striking resemblance to that of the enormous star-forming regions that were prevalent when the Universe was just a few billion years old, during the peak of star formation.

The Milky Way, in comparison, does not match the fervent star-producing pace of N79 and has a different chemical makeup.

Webb continues to peel back the layers

The Webb telescope is enabling astronomers to compare the star formation in N79 with the activity observed in distant galaxies from the early Universe.

This comparison is invaluable in understanding the evolution of stars and galaxies over cosmic time.

These observations of N79 are part of a broader Webb program aimed at studying the evolution of circumstellar discs and envelopes of forming stars.

This program focuses on a wide range of mass and different evolutionary stages.

Webb’s sensitivity is expected to allow scientists to detect, for the first time, the planet-forming dust discs around stars of similar mass to our Sun, even at the great distances of the LMC.

Through images like these, the Webb Telescope continues to unlock the secrets of the cosmos, providing a window into the intricate processes of star formation and the evolution of galaxies.

As we gaze upon N79, we are not just seeing a distant nebula; we are witnessing the very processes that shaped our Universe.


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