NASA’s Webb Catches Fiery Hourglass as New Star Forms
Countdown to a new star? Hidden in the neck of this “hourglass” of light are the very beginnings of a new star — a protostar. The clouds of dust and gas within this region are only visible in infrared light, the wavelengths that Webb specializes in.
This protostar is a hot, puffy clump of gas that’s only a fraction of the mass of our Sun. As it draws material in, its core will compress, get hotter, and eventually begin nuclear fusion — creating a star!
See that dark line at the very center of the “hourglass”? That’s an edge-on view of a protoplanetary disk, or the disk of material being pulled into the star as it forms. It’s about the size of our solar system and may eventually clump into planets, giving us a window into our solar system’s history.
Light from the protostar is illuminating cavities in the dust and gas above and below its disk. (Think of flashlights pointing in opposite directions, each shining a cone of light.) The blue areas are where dust is thinnest, while orange represents thicker layers of dust.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
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