Matched Twin Stars are Firing Their Jets Into Space Together

This artist’s concept shows two young stars nearing the end of their formation. Encircling the stars are disks of leftover gas and dust from which planets may form. Jets of gas shoot away from the stars’ north and south poles. Credit: NASA

Since it began operating in 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has revealed some surprising things about the Universe. The latest came when a team of researchers used Webb‘s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) to observe Rho Ophiuchi, the closest star-forming nebula to Earth, about 400 light-years away. While at least five telescopes have studied the region since the 1970s, Webb’s unprecedented resolution and specialized instruments revealed what was happening at the heart of this nebula.

For starters, while observing what was thought to be a single star (WL 20S), the team realized they were observing a pair of young stars that formed 2 to 4 million years ago. The MIRI data also revealed that the twin stars have matching jets of hot gas (aka stellar jets) emanating from their north and south poles into space. The discovery was presented at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (224 AAS) on June 12th. Thanks to additional observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the team was surprised to notice large clouds of dust and gas encircling both stars.

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Celebrate a Year of JWST With This Ludicrous Image of Rho Ophiuchi

JWST image of the star forming region Rho Ophiuchi. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (STScI)

Astronomy is driven by data. We take spectra of distant galaxies, plot the temperatures and brightness of main sequence stars, and graph the gravitational chirps of merging black holes. All of this data allows us to understand the universe around us. We don’t need images to do that, just data. But we still capture images even when we already have the data. We value them for their wondrous beauty, and for the stories they tell. This is why to celebrate a year of gathering data the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) released a stunningly beautiful image that also tells a wondrous tale.

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This is a Binary Star in the Process of Formation

Zoom into the Ophiuchus molecular cloud, highlighting the star forming system IRAS 16293-2422 with the proto-star B in the upper right corner and the now clearly identified binary proto-stars A1 and A2 on the bottom left. The binary system is shown also in a further zoom-in panel. Image: © MPE; background: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2; Davide De Martin)

About 460 light years away lies the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. It’s a molecular cloud—an active star-forming region—and it’s one of the closest ones. R. Ophiuchi is a dark nebula, a region so thick with dust that the visible light from stars is almost completely obscured.

But scientists working with ALMA have pin-pointed a pair of young proto-stars inside all that dust, doing the busy work of becoming active stars.

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