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The Carina Nebula like we've never seen it before

The James Webb Space Telescope has already provided us with the oldest view of our known universe, and the spacecraft was just recently launched in December. The telescope also captured this stunning image of the Carina Nebula, which is a huge cloud of gas and stars that are exploding into existence. 

The photo reveals hundreds of new stars and numerous galaxies in the background of the nebula, as well as areas of star birth that were previously invisible. It is difficult to capture this stage of early star formation because it only lasts about 50,000 to 100,000 years for each star. 

“What looks much like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula,” reports ESA.

“Called the Cosmic Cliffs, the region is actually the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, roughly 7,600 light-years away. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image. The high-energy radiation from these stars is sculpting the nebula’s wall by slowly eroding it away.”

The image was captured in infrared light by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on the James Webb Space Telescope. ESA described several prominent features that can be found in the photo.

  • The “steam” that appears to rise from the celestial “mountains” is actually hot, ionized gas and hot dust streaming away from the nebula due to intense, ultraviolet radiation.
  • Dramatic pillars rise above the glowing wall of gas, resisting the blistering ultraviolet radiation from the young stars.
  • Bubbles and cavities are being blown by the intense radiation and stellar winds of newborn stars.
  • Protostellar jets and outflows, which appear in gold, shoot from dust-enshrouded, nascent stars.
  • A “blow-out” erupts at the top-centre of the ridge, spewing gas and dust into the interstellar medium.
  • An unusual “arch” appears, looking like a bent-over cylinder.

Located approximately 7,600 light-years from Earth, the Carina Nebula is visible from the Southern Hemisphere and can be found in the constellation Carina. The region is home to the unstable supergiant star known as Eta Carinae, which is famous for its unusual and bright outbursts.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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