The James Webb Space Telescope on Tuesday released classic images of the Tarantula Nebula, a region of the universe where stars are born at breakneck speed, and the images will deepen scientific knowledge of star formation.
The Tarantula Nebula, nicknamed for the shape of its clouds of gas and dust, “lies just 161,000 light-years away,” NASA wrote in a statement. It is the largest and brightest star-forming region of the entire group of galaxies near us, and is home to the hottest and most massive stars known.
Although the nebula has long been a target of interest for scientists studying the process of star formation, these images reveal new details, including thousands of young stars that were previously invisible to the eyes of telescopes.
Several scientific instruments aboard the James Webb were used to take images of the nebula at different wavelengths.
At the center of the NIRCam image is a cluster of very bright young blue stars active in the near-infrared.
Another instrument, NIRSpec, allowed a star to distinguish itself from its dust plume and maintain a cloud around it — a phase of its formation that would not have been observed without the incredible skills of James Webb. Researchers previously thought the star was actually older and more advanced.
“Star-forming regions in our Milky Way do not produce stars at the same breakup rate as the Tarantula Nebula, and have different chemical compositions,” NASA explained.
Its own chemical composition is of particular interest to researchers because it is similar to the regions where stars formed when the universe was a few billion years old, when star formation was most important.
The James Webb Telescope, which has been fully operational for only a few months since it was launched last Christmas, conducts its observations 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
According to the US space agency, this piece of engineering is “beginning to rewrite the history of galaxy formation.”