As our newest, most perceptive eye on the ongoing unfolding of the cosmos, the James Webb Space Telescope is revealing many things that were previously unseeable. One of the space telescope’s science goals is to expand our understanding of how stars form. The JWST has the power to see into the cocoons of gas and dust that hide young protostars.
It peered inside one of these cocoons and showed us that what we thought was a single star is actually a binary star.
The birth of a star is a spectacular event that plays out behind a veil of gas and dust. It’s a detailed process that takes millions of years to play out. Once a star leaves its protostar stage behind and begins its life of fusion, the star’s powerful radiative output blows the veil away.
But before then, astrophysicists are at a disadvantage.
Astronomers examining a star cluster near Sgr A*, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, found that the cluster has some unusually young members for its location. That’s difficult to explain since the region so close to the powerful black hole is infused with powerful radiation and dominated by the black hole’s extremely powerful gravitational force. According to our understanding of stellar formation, young stars shouldn’t be there.
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.
The high-flying SOFIA telescope is shedding light on where some of the basic building blocks for life may have originated from. A recent study published on The Astrophysical Journal: Letters led by astronomers from the University of Hawaii, including collaborators from the University of California Davis, Johns-Hopkins University, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Appalachian State University, and several international partners (including funding from NASA), looked at a lingering mystery in planet formation: the chemical pathway of the element sulfur, and its implications and role in the formation of planets and life.