The Webb Telescope captures the most beautiful object in the night sky in a breathtaking new version


It’s one of the most incredible naked-eye sights in the night sky, and has now been photographed by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The Orion Nebula, also known as M42, is a stellar nursery home to newborn stars. It’s the region closest to us in space and maybe, just maybe, where our own star, the Sun, formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

A diffuse cloud of gas and dust about 1,300 light-years distant, this brightest nebula of all is part of the “Sword of Orion” hanging from Orion’s belt.

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Images published today are something beautifully complex, yet so simple – space being warmed by starlight.

The images here are composites that use filters from JWST’s NIRCam instrument to isolate different wavelengths of light reflected from ionized gases, hydrocarbons, molecular gases, dust, and scattered starlight.

In the main image, above, you can see Orion’s Bar, a ridge of dense gas and dust lit by hot, massive young stars from the nearby Trapezium cluster, just out of view.

An area of ​​space that is zapped by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from young massive stars – or, more simply, that is heated by starlight – is what astronomers call a photo-dissociation region (PDR). .

PDRs are of intense interest because they are the best place to find clues to how stars and planets are created.

In the main image, annotated above, it is possible to see four incredible cosmic views:

  • A baby star in its cocoon (top right): Discs of gas and dust around a young star called HST-10 that may be forming planets.
  • Filaments (bottom right): Winding filaments rich in hydrocarbon molecules and molecular hydrogen fill most of the image.
  • Theta2 Orionis (θ2 Orionis A) (center): a multiple star system whose light illuminates the dust behind it.
  • A tiny star in a globule (center, left): Gravitationally unstable clouds of gas and dust crumble into slowly growing embryos before becoming glowing nuclear fusion reactors.

The images are from Team Photo-dissociation regions for all early scientific publications (PDRs4All ERS)researchers who use mankind’s most advanced telescopes to study these hot, ionized environments.

In addition to being compared, above, to previous images of the region taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the Orion Bar was captured last week by the same PDRs4All team using the WM Keck Observatory on the island of Hawaii.

Here’s that image from Keck, below, again compared to Hubble’s effort:

“Observing the PDRs is like looking into our past,” said Emilie Habart, associate professor at the Institute of Space Astrophysics at the University of Paris-Saclay and lead author of a paper on this study. “These regions are important because they allow us to understand how young stars influence the cloud of gas and dust in which they are born, particularly the sites where stars, like the Sun, form.”

The image above (right side) helped the team plan the JWST images you see here.

As a bonus, the PDRs4All ERS team also released this stunningly beautiful image of the northern region of the Orion Nebula which again shows off its incredible filaments:

You can see the Orion Nebula with your own eyes right now if you get up an hour before dawn and look east. It is in the constellation of Orion, “the hunter”.

It looks like a fuzzy patch of diffused light and sits right next to Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the three stars in Orion’s belt, which lies between the red star Betelgeuse and the blue star Rigel. Although you can see it with the naked eye, the Orion Nebula is best seen through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.


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