NASA James Webb Space Telescope uncovers star formation in cluster's dusty ribbons | Tech News

NASA James Webb Space Telescope uncovers star formation in cluster's dusty ribbons

NGC 346, one of the most dynamic star-forming regions in nearby galaxies, is full of mystery. Now, it is less mysterious with new findings from the NASA James Webb Space Telescope.

By:ANI
| Updated on: Jan 14 2023, 11:56 IST
James Webb Space Telescope captures STUNNING Cartwheel Galaxy: NASA
NGC 346
1/5 The stunning image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope was released by NASA on August 3. The image showed the Cartwheel Galaxy spinning ring of colour in never-before-seen clarity. (NASA)
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2/5 The image was captured by the James Webb Space Telescope’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and MIRI instrument. It showed individual stars within the star-forming regions in the outer ring of the Cartwheel galaxy. It also shows clusters of very young stars around the galaxy's central supermassive black hole shrouded in dust. (NASA)
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3/5 The Cartwheel galaxy is located in the constellation Sculptor, around 500 million light years away from Earth. According to the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the galaxy’s shape was developed because of a head-on collision between 2 galaxies which created 2 rings from the galaxy’s center like "like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it.” (AFP)
NGC 346
4/5 The stunning image captured by telescope showed areas rich in hydrocarbons and silicate dust, connecting the inner and outer ring of the galaxy. The Hubble Telescope had also earlier captured the Cartwheel, but it was a mystery due to the amount of dust that hinders the view. The new $10 billion telescope makes these features much easier to distinguish and study. (ESA/Hubble)
NGC 346
5/5 However, the galaxy is still in transformation from the collision between the 2 galaxies. Therefore, the observations will change with time and it will be interesting to see what happens next. (NASA)
NGC 346
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NGC 346, taken by NASA James Webb Space Telescope, is a dynamic star cluster that lies within a nebula 200,000 light years away. (NASA)

NGC 346, one of the most dynamic star-forming regions in nearby galaxies, is full of mystery. Now, it is less mysterious with new findings from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

NCG 346 is located in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), a dwarf galaxy close to our Milky Way. The SMC contains lower concentrations of elements heavier than hydrogen or helium, which astronomers call metals, compared to the Milky Way. Since dust grains in Space are composed mostly of metals, scientists expected there would be low amounts of dust, and that it would be hard to detect. New data from Webb reveals the opposite.

Astronomers probed this region because the conditions and amount of metals within the SMC resemble those seen in galaxies billions of years ago, during an era in the universe known as "cosmic noon," when star formation was at its peak. Some 2 to 3 billion years after the big bang, galaxies were forming stars at a furious rate. The fireworks of star formation happening then still shape the galaxies we see around us today.

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"A galaxy during cosmic noon wouldn't have one NGC 346 like the Small Magellanic Cloud does; it would have thousands" of star-forming regions like this one, said Margaret Meixner, an astronomer at the Universities Space Research Association and principal investigator of the research team. "But even if NGC 346 is now the one and only massive cluster furiously forming stars in its galaxy, it offers us a great opportunity to probe conditions that were in place at cosmic noon."

By observing protostars still in the process of forming, researchers can learn if the star formation process in the SMC is different from what we observe in our own Milky Way. Previous infrared studies of NGC 346 have focused on protostars heavier than about 5 to 8 times the mass of our Sun. "With Webb, we can probe down to lighter-weight protostars, as small as one tenth of our Sun, to see if their formation process is affected by the lower metal content," said Olivia Jones of the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, a co-investigator on the program.

As stars form, they gather gas and dust, which can look like ribbons in Webb imagery, from the surrounding molecular cloud. The material collects into an accretion disk that feeds the central protostar. Astronomers have detected gas around protostars within NGC 346, but Webb's near-infrared observations mark the first time they have also detected dust in these disks.

"We're seeing the building blocks, not only of stars, but also potentially of planets," said Guido De Marchi of the European Space Agency, a co-investigator on the research team. "And since the Small Magellanic Cloud has a similar environment to galaxies during cosmic noon, it's possible that rocky planets could have formed earlier in the universe than we might have thought."

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First Published Date: 14 Jan, 11:48 IST
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