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The latest image taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows a slice of our galaxy’s dense center, the Milky Way, in unprecedented detail, including features that have never been seen before and that astronomers are still trying to explain. The star formation zone, called Sagittarius C (Sagittarius – n. red) , is about 300 light years from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
“We’ve never had infrared data of this region before with the level of resolution and photo capability that the Webb telescope has, so we’re seeing a lot of these things for the first time,” said observation team principal investigator Samuel Crowe , associate professor at the University of Virginia.
“The Webb telescope reveals an incredible amount of detail and allows us to study star formation in this type of environment, which was not possible before,” he added.
“The galactic center is the most extreme environment in the Milky Way galaxy, where we can most rigorously test theories about star formation,” added Professor Jonathan Tan.
Among the 500,000 stars in the image is a “bunch” of protostars, stars that are still forming and gaining mass and glow like a campfire in the middle of a black north.
At the heart of this nest of stars is a protostar 30 times more massive than the Sun, and the cloud from which these protostars come is so dense that the light behind the stars cannot reach the Webb telescope, making it it seems less crowded. It is actually one of the fullest areas of the image.
“The galactic center is a crowded and tumultuous place. There are turbulent, magnetized star-forming clouds that then impact the surrounding gas with radiation and stellar wind,” said Ruben Fedriani, co-investigator on the project at the Instituto Astrofisica de Andalucia in Spain. “Webb has given us a wealth of information about this extreme environment, and we’ve only just begun to look closely at it.”
Located about 25,000 light-years from Earth, the center of the galaxy is close enough to allow us to study individual stars using the James Webb Telescope. These images allow astronomers to obtain unprecedented information about star formation and how this process depends on the cosmic environment, especially when compared to other regions of the galaxy.
One problem that arises is whether more massive stars form in the center of the galaxy than in its arms.
“The images we get from the Webb telescope are incredible, and the information we get from them is even better. “Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their cores, so by understanding them better, we also learn better about the origin of the universe,” Crowe added.
Editor: Adrian Dumitru
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