Cosmic Noon was Billions of Years ago, When Many Galaxies Were Filled With Star-Forming Nebulae Like This

You’re looking at NGC 346, a star cluster 210 light years away that is energetically pumping out brand new stars from a dense cloud of gas and dust. Between 10 and 11 billion years ago, nearly all galaxies in the Universe underwent an era of intense star formation similar to what we see in NGC 346. This flurry of stellar birth is poetically nicknamed cosmic noon. Since then, star formation in the Universe has gradually dwindled, though it still blazes away in small pockets. By studying NGC 346 and other clusters like it, we can learn more about the era of cosmic noon and the evolution of galaxies.

To that end, researchers pointed the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam infrared camera at NGC 346 last year, and they announced their preliminary findings at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting on January 11, 2023.

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Webb’s New Image Reveals a Galaxy Awash in Star Formation

This JWST image shows NGC 7469, a luminous, face-on spiral galaxy approximately 90 000 light-years in diameter that lies roughly 220 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Image Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. S. Evans

When a spiral galaxy presents itself just right, observations reveal more detail. That’s the case with NGC 7469, a spiral galaxy about 220 million light-years away. It’s face-on towards us, and the James Webb Space Telescope captured its revealing scientific portrait.

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A Black Hole has been Burping for 100 Million Years

Artist view of an active supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Black holes are gluttonous behemoths that lurk in the center of galaxies. Almost everybody knows that nothing can escape them, not even light. So when anything made of simple matter gets too close, whether a planet, a star or a gas cloud, it’s doomed.

But the black hole doesn’t eat it at once. It plays with its food like a fussy kid. Sometimes, it spews out light.

When the black hole is not only at the center of a galaxy but the center of a cluster of galaxies, these burps and jets carve massive cavities out of the hot gas at the center of the cluster called radio bubbles.

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A Black Hole is Hurling a jet of Material at its Neighboring Galaxy

Artist view of an active supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

It’s been a banner time for black hole research! In recent months, astrophysicists have announced the discovery of the most powerful gamma-ray burst ever recorded (due to the formation of a black hole), a monster black hole in our cosmic backyard, the frame-dragging effects of a binary black hole, and the remains of the 2017 Kilonova event (spoiler alert: it was a black hole). And with the help of citizen scientists, a team of astronomers recently discovered a unique black hole in a galaxy roughly one billion light-years away that’s hurling a relativistic jet at another galaxy.

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Brand New Stars in the Orion Nebula, Seen by Hubble

New stars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in the Orion Nebula. ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Bally; Acknowledgment: M. H. Özsaraç.

The Orion Nebula is a giant cloud of gas and dust that spans more than 20,000 times the size of our own solar system. It one of the closest active star-forming regions to Earth, and is therefore one of the most observed and photographed objects in the night sky. The venerable Hubble Space Telescope has focused on the Orion Nebula many times, peering into giant cavities in the hazy gas, and at one point, Hubble took 520 images to create a giant mosaic of this spellbinding nebula.

Now, Hubble has captured new views of a wispy, colorful region in the Orion Nebula surrounding the Herbig-Haro object HH 505.

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A Star has Grown Spiral Arms

Protostellar disk around a star at the galactic center. Image credit: Lu et al.

Astronomers using the ALMA Observatory have discovered an unusual, massive star near the center of our galaxy, a star that has two spiral arms. The arms are part of an accretion disk, a broad disk of dust and gas surrounding the protostar. While this is not the first star to be seen with such rare arm-like features, researchers say they believe they can track the formation of the spiral arms to a close encounter the star had with another object.

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Recent Supernovae Produced Giant Cavities in the Orion Nebula

This image of the Orion Nebula shows the puzzilng Barnard's Loop feature, a structure made of gas first identified in 1898, Image Credit: Michael Foley

The Orion Nebula is a well-known feature in the night sky and is visible in small backyard telescopes. Orion is a busy place. The region is known for active star formation and other phenomena. It’s one of the most scrutinized features in the sky, and astronomers have observed all kinds of activity there: planets forming in protoplanetary disks, stars beginning their lives of fusion inside collapsing molecular clouds, and the photoevaporative power of massive hot stars as they carve out openings in clouds of interstellar gas.

But supernova explosions are leaving their mark on the Orion Nebula too. New research says supernovae explosions in recent astronomical history are responsible for a mysterious feature first formally identified in the night sky at the end of the 19th century. It’s called Barnard’s Loop, and it’s a gigantic loop of hot gas as large as 300 light-years across.

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Star Formation Simulated in the lab, Using Lasers, of Course

Illustration of the evolution of a massive cloud which indicates the importance of SNR propagation in forming new stars. CREDIT: Albertazzi et al.

The vacuum of space isn’t really a vacuum. A vacuum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a space absolutely devoid of matter.” However, even empty space has some matter in it. This matter, in the form of dust and gas, tends to collect into what are called molecular clouds. Without anything interfering with them they continue to float as a cloud.

When something happens to interrupt the balance of the molecular cloud, some of that dust and gas starts clumping together. As more and more of this dust and gas clump together gravity takes over and starts forming stars. One way that the balance of a molecular cloud can be interfered with is by a supernova remnant, the remains of an exploded star. Plasma jets, radiation, and other clouds can also interact with these clouds.

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Supermassive Black Holes Shut Down Star Formation

The Cigar Galaxy (M82), which is a starburst galaxy with high star production. Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

One of the key aspects of galactic evolution is star production. On a basic level, stars form within a galaxy’s gas and dust all the time, and where they form can help determine a galaxy’s shape and size. But there seems to be a sweet point when star production in a galaxy is particularly strong. Galaxies often have a period of rapid star production which then drops off. Astronomers are still trying to understand what causes this drop-off.

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Incredible Image Shows Twin Stellar Jets Blasting Out of a Star-Forming Region

The sinuous young stellar jet, MHO 2147, meanders lazily across a field of stars in this image captured from Chile by the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF's NOIRLab. The stellar jet is the outflow from a young star that is embedded in an infrared dark cloud. Astronomers suspect its sidewinding appearance is caused by the gravitational attraction of companion stars. These crystal-clear observations were made using the Gemini South telescope’s adaptive optics system, which helps astronomers counteract the blurring effects of atmospheric turbulence. Image Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

Young stars go through a lot as they’re being born. They sometimes emit jets of ionized gas called MHOs—Molecular Hydrogen emission-line Objects. New images of two of these MHOs, also called stellar jets, show how complex they can be and what a hard time astronomers have as they try to understand them.

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