Skip to main content

James Webb snaps a colorful image of a star in the process of forming

L1527, shown in this image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument), is a molecular cloud that harbors a protostar. It resides about 460 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. The more diffuse blue light and the filamentary structures in the image come from organic compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), while the red at the center of this image is an energized, thick layer of gases and dust that surrounds the protostar. The region in between, which shows up in white, is a mixture of PAHs, ionized gas, and other molecules.
L1527, shown in this image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument), is a molecular cloud that harbors a protostar. It resides about 460 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

A stunning new image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows a young star called a protostar and the huge outflows of dust and gas that are thrown out as it consumes material from its surrounding cloud. This object has now been observed using two of Webb’s instruments: a previous version that was taken in the near-infrared with Webb’s NIRCam camera, and new data in the mid-infrared taken with Webb’s MIRI instrument.

Looking in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum allows researchers to see through clouds of dust that would be opaque in the visible light range, showing the interior structures of clouds like this one — named L1527. This image shows interior structures called filaments that are formed of compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and which are used to track star formation. In the glowing red center of the image is the hot gas and dust around the protostar, from which it is feeding to grow larger.

The protostar L1527, shown in this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope.
The protostar L1527, shown in this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument. NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, J. DePasquale (STScI)

The NIRCam image looks very different because this wavelength shows mostly light that is reflected off the dust, while this new MIRI image shows the thickest pockets of dust. The MIRI image shows an area in white that is hard to see in the NIRCam image, which is a mixture of PAHs, ionized gas, and other material.

“The combination of analyses from both the near-infrared and mid-infrared views reveal the overall behavior of this system, including how the central protostar is affecting the surrounding region,” Webb scientists explain. “Other stars in Taurus, the star-forming region where L1527 resides, are forming just like this, which could lead to other molecular clouds being disrupted and either preventing new stars from forming or catalyzing their development.”

This beautiful sight won’t be around forever, though. Over time the protostar will continue to consume more material and push away the remnants of the molecular cloud it resides in. Then it will become a true star and will become visible in the visible light wavelength as well.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
James Webb telescope peers at the atmosphere of a rocky hell world
This artist’s concept shows what the exoplanet 55 Cancri e could look like. Also called Janssen, 55 Cancri e is a so-called super-Earth, a rocky planet significantly larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, which orbits its star at a distance of only 2.25 million kilometres (0.015 astronomical units), completing one full orbit in less than 18 hours. In comparison, Mercury is 25 times farther from the Sun than 55 Cancri e is from its star. The system, which also includes four large gas-giant planets, is located about 41 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Cancer.

This artist’s concept shows what the exoplanet 55 Cancri e could look like. Also called Janssen, 55 Cancri e is a so-called super-Earth, a rocky planet significantly larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, which orbits its star at a distance of only 2.25 million kilometers (0.015 astronomical units), completing one full orbit in less than 18 hours. NASA, ESA, CSA, R. Crawford (STScI)

When it comes to learning about exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, the James Webb Space Telescope is providing more information than ever before. Over the last decade or so, thousands of exoplanets have been discovered, with details available about these worlds, such as their orbits and their size or mass. But now we're starting to learn about what these planets are actually like, including details of their atmospheres. Webb recently investigated the atmosphere around exoplanet 55 Cancri e, finding what could be the first atmosphere of a rocky planet discovered outside the solar system.

Read more
James Webb observes extremely hot exoplanet with 5,000 mph winds
This artist’s concept shows what the hot gas-giant exoplanet WASP-43 b could look like. WASP-43 b is a Jupiter-sized planet circling a star roughly 280 light-years away, in the constellation Sextans. The planet orbits at a distance of about 1.3 million miles (0.014 astronomical units, or AU), completing one circuit in about 19.5 hours. Because it is so close to its star, WASP-43 b is probably tidally locked: its rotation rate and orbital period are the same, such that one side faces the star at all times.

Astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope have modeled the weather on a distant exoplanet, revealing winds whipping around the planet at speeds of 5,000 miles per hour.

Researchers looked at exoplanet WASP-43 b, located 280 light-years away. It is a type of exoplanet called a hot Jupiter that is a similar size and mass to Jupiter, but orbits much closer to its star at just 1.3 million miles away, far closer than Mercury is to the sun. It is so close to its star that gravity holds it in place, with one side always facing the star and the other always facing out into space, so that one side (called the dayside) is burning hot and the other side (called the nightside) is much cooler. This temperature difference creates epic winds that whip around the planet's equator.

Read more
James Webb captures the edge of the beautiful Horsehead Nebula
The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has captured the sharpest infrared images to date of one of the most distinctive objects in our skies, the Horsehead Nebula. These observations show a part of the iconic nebula in a whole new light, capturing its complexity with unprecedented spatial resolution. Webb’s new images show part of the sky in the constellation Orion (The Hunter), in the western side of the Orion B molecular cloud. Rising from turbulent waves of dust and gas is the Horsehead Nebula, otherwise known as Barnard 33, which resides roughly 1300 light-years away.

A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the sharpest infrared view to date of a portion of the famous Horsehead Nebula, an iconic cloud of dust and gas that's also known as Barnard 33 and is located around 1,300 light-years away.

The Horsehead Nebula is part of a large cloud of molecular gas called Orion B, which is a busy star-forming region where many young stars are being born. This nebula  formed from a collapsing cloud of material that is illuminated by a bright, hot star located nearby. The image shows the very top part of the nebula, catching the section that forms the "horse's mane."

Read more