NASA creates a “snapshot in time” that shows how a star is formed among the Cosmic Cliffs

Behind clouds of dust, you’ll find the mysterious happening that has baffled astronomers for years, a “hotbed for star formation.” Now, thanks to the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, you can also see the process.

NASA describes the area of space at “the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity” within the NGC 3324 star cluster as the Cliffs. But it wasn’t until the Webb Telescope observed it that astronomers discovered the impeccable details.

Through this, NASA scientists found 24 previously unknown outflows from baby stars, indicating “a gallery of objects ranging from small fountains to burbling behemoths extending light-years from the formation of stars.”

NASA concluded that the formation of stars takes place “relatively swiftly” at the current pace of in a nearly instantaneous multi-million-year process.

NASA creates a "snapshot in time" that shows how a star is formed among the Cosmic Cliffs

But Webb was able to pinpoint a “snapshot in time,” astronomer and leader of this study Megan Reiter said, “to see what an amount of stars was forming in a location we might pass through but have not seen before.”

A study of these results was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society this month.

Jets and outflows are ways that gas and debris are expelled from a star during its formation. Molecular hydrogen, a heavy element, is the initial ingredient in the formation of these objects. Earlier, Hubble was only able to see the outflows of more mature objects that were in the telescope’s visible range of wavelengths. When investigating objects in environments similar to the birthplace of the solar system, Webb’s “unparalleled sensitivity” allows researchers to observe younger stages.

“Jets like these are signposts for the most exciting part of the star formation process,” study co-author Nathan Smith said. “We only see them during a brief window of time when the protostar is actively accreting.”

For team member Jon Morse, “it’s like finding buried treasure.”

“In the image first released in July, you see hints of this activity, but these jets are only visible when you embark on that deep dive – dissecting data from each of the different filters and analyzing each area alone,” he said.

Many of the stars observed by these astronomers are expected to adopt low-mass characteristics exactly like our sun’s. And according to Reiter, astronomers will be better able to understand where in the cosmos they can find such stars.

“It opens the door for what’s going to be possible in terms of looking at these populations of newborn stars in fairly typical environments of the universe that have been invisible up until the James Webb Space Telescope,” Reiter said.

With information from CBS News

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