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NASA's Webb Telescope reveals cosmic cliffs and star-forming regions in the Carina Nebula

"Cosmic Cliffs" images show Webb's cameras' ability to peer through cosmic dust, shedding new light on how stars form * Webb's technology could help watch the elusive process of star formation

The Carina Nebula in a near-infrared photograph. One of the first images taken by the Webb Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScIn
The Carina Nebula in a near-infrared photograph. One of the first images taken by the Webb Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScIn

This landscape of "mountains" and "valleys" dotted with twinkling stars is actually the edge of a region relatively close to us, a young star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. This image, taken in infrared light by NASA's new James Webb Space Telescope, reveals for the first time previously unseen regions of star birth.

Webb's seemingly 3324D image, known as the Cosmic Cliffs, looks like crazy mountains in the moonlight. In reality, this is the edge of the giant, gaseous void within NGC 7, and the highest "peaks" in this image are about XNUMX light-years high. The cave region has been "carved" out of the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive and hot young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.

The hot ultraviolet radiation of the young stars sculpts the wall of the nebula by slowly eroding it. Dramatic columns rise above the wall of glowing gas, resisting this radiation. The "steam" that seems to rise from the heavenly "mountains" is actually hot, ionized gas and hot dust flowing away from the nebula due to the incessant radiation.

Web reveals nascent star nurseries and individual stars that are completely hidden in visible light images. Because of Webb's sensitivity to infrared light, he can peer through cosmic dust to see these objects. Prestellar jets clearly emerging in this image are shot out from some of these young stars. The youngest sources appear as red dots in the dark and dusty region of the cloud. Objects in the earliest and fastest stages of star formation are difficult to capture, but Webb's extreme sensitivity, spatial resolution and imaging capability can record these elusive events.

These observations of NGC 3324 will shed light on the star formation process. Star birth spreads over time, caused by the expansion of the abrasive space. As the bright, ionized rim moves into the nebula, it slowly pushes away the gas and dust. If the rim encounters any unstable material, the increased pressure will cause the material to collapse and form new stars.

Conversely, this type of disorder may also prevent star formation as the star-forming material wears away. It is a very delicate balance between igniting the star formation process and stopping it. Webb will address some of the great and open questions of modern astrophysics: What determines the number of stars formed in a particular region? Why are stars formed with a certain mass?

Webb will also reveal the effect of star formation on the evolution of giant clouds of gas and dust. While the influence of massive stars – with their violent and high-energy winds – is often evident, less is known about the influence of the more numerous low-mass stars. When they form, these small stars create the narrow, opposing jets seen here that can inject a lot of momentum and energy into the clouds. This reduces the fraction of nebular material that seeds new stars.

Until this point, scientists had very little data on the effect of the abundance of younger, more energetic, low-mass stars. With Web, they will be able to obtain a full census of their numbers and influence across the Nebula.

GC 3324 located about 7,600 light-years from us, imaged by the Near Infrared Camera (NIR Cam) of Webb and the mid-infrared device (MIRI).

NIRCam - with its sharp resolution and unparalleled sensitivity - reveals hundreds of previously hidden stars, and even many background galaxies.

MIRI makes it possible to observe young stars and their dusty disks, which form planets, glow brightly in the mid-infrared, and appear pink and red in the image. MIRI reveals structures embedded in dust and reveals the stellar sources of massive jets and streams. MIRI makes it possible to see the behavior of the hot dust, hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds on the surface of the ridges that glow, giving them the appearance of jagged rocks.

NGC 3324 was first cataloged by James Dunlop in 1826. It is visible from the Southern Hemisphere, and is located in the northwest corner of the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), which lies in the constellation Carina. The Carina Nebula is home to the Keyhole Nebula and the active and unstable super star Eta Carinae.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

to meInformation on the NASA website

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