NASA Webb reveals star formation in cluster ‘dust ribbons’

New results from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope It sheds light on star formation in a dynamic cluster within a nebula 200,000 light-years away.

NGC 346, located in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), is one of the most dynamic star-forming regions in nearby galaxies.

The SMC is a dwarf galaxy close to the Milky Way that has low concentrations of metals.

Because dust grains in space are mostly made up of metals — elements heavier than hydrogen or helium — scientists expected that there would be small amounts of dust, and that it would be difficult to detect.

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NGC 346, shown here in this image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, is a dynamic star cluster located within a nebula 200,000 light-years away.
(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, O. Jones (UK ATC), G. De Marchi (ESTEC), and M. Meixner (USRA). Image processing: A. Pagan (STScI), N. Habel (USRA), Linkic (USRA) and L. Chu (NASA/Ames))

However, the agency said that new data from Webb revealed the opposite.

Astronomers investigated the region because the conditions and amount of minerals within the SMC are similar to those found in galaxies billions of years ago when star formation peaked during the “cosmic noon” era.

By observing protostars that are still forming, researchers can see if the star formation process differs from that of the Milky Way.

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while stars are formingthey accumulate gas and dust, which can appear as streaks in Webb’s images.

Matter collects into a disk that feeds the protostar.

While astronomers had previously detected gas around protostars within NGC 346, Webb’s near-infrared view marks the first time they have also found dust in the disks.

James Webb Space Telescope seen on March 5, 2020.

James Webb Space Telescope seen on March 5, 2020.
(NASA/Chris Jean)

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“We’re seeing the building blocks, not only of stars, but also of potential planets,” ESA’s Guido De Marchi, a co-investigator on the research team, said in a statement. Because the environment of the Small Magellanic Cloud is similar to that of galaxies during cosmic noon, it is possible that Rocky planets may have formed in the universe earlier than we thought.”

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