Check out JWST’s new image of a star factory

The extragalactic, starburst-patterned nebula N79 is about 1,630-light-year-wide.
A bright young star within a colorful nebula. The star is identifiable as the brightest spot in the image, surrounded by six large spokes of light that cross the image. A number of other bright spots can also be seen in the clouds, which are shown in great detail as layers of colorful wisps.
An image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope features an H II region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. This nebula, known as N79, is a region of interstellar atomic hydrogen that is ionized, captured here by Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI). ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, M. Meixner

Stars are being born in a stellar new image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The telescope imaged the 1,630-light-year-wide nebula N79. It is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way galaxy that is almost 200,000 light-years away from Earth. It’s possible that the LMC could crash into our home galaxy–in about two billion years.

[Related: Astronomers spot an extragalactic star with a disc around it for the first time.]

The image uses orange, yellow, and blue filters to showcase star nurseries forming new stars. It is still being explored by astronomers. JWST’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument took the image that features interstellar atomic hydrogen.

Seeing ‘starbursts’ more clearly

This new image hones in on a region called N79 South, or S1. The area is made up of three giant bunches of cold atomic gas called molecular clouds. The bright starburst effect at the center is due to the diffraction spikes caused by the 18 pieces that make JWST’s primary mirror as they collect light. Since these mirrors are put together in a hexagon, there are six main diffraction spikes.

“Patterns like these are only noticeable around very bright, compact objects, where all the light comes from the same place,” the European Space Agency (ESA) wrote in a press release. “Most galaxies, even though they appear very small to our eyes, are darker and more spread out than a single star, and therefore do not show this pattern.”

When JWST looks at galaxies that may appear small, more light is visible with the help of how these mirrors are arranged and work. 

The telescope’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument also captures light at longer wavelengths and this new view uses that to showcase N79’s glowing gas and dust. Mid-infrared light can reveal what is going on deep inside these gas and dust clouds. Shorter wavelengths of light would be scattered or absorbed by the nebula’s dust grains.

Nebula siblings

N79 is considered to be a younger sibling of the Tarantula Nebula, which is about 161,000 light-years from Earth. While the two are similar, astronomers believe that N79 has been forming stars twice as fast as the Tarantula Nebula. 

[Related: The Running Chicken Nebula shimmers in new ESO image.]

“Star-forming regions such as this are of interest to astronomers because their chemical composition is similar to that of the gigantic star-forming regions observed when the Universe was only a few billion years old and star formation was at its peak,” said the ESA.

The star forming regions in our galaxy aren’t producing stars at quite the breakneck pace as N79. They also have different chemical compositions. JWST is helping astronomers compare and contrast observations of star formation in N79 with its deep observations of distant galaxies in the Early Universe

Astronomers are also hoping to get their look at the planet-forming disks of material that surround young stars that resemble our sun. An image like that could give us a better idea of how our solar system formed, roughly 4.6 billion years ago.