NASA Webb caught the Tarantula Nebula

NASA Webb caught the Tarantula Nebula

Officially known as 30 Doradus, this region of space is characterized by its dusty filaments that resemble the legs of a hairy spider and has long been a favorite area for astronomers interested in star formation – Copyright AFP Genya SAVILOV

The agency said Tuesday that the stellar nursery, nicknamed the Tarantula Nebula, was captured in sharp detail by NASA’s Webb Telescope, revealing never-before-seen features that deepen scientific understanding.

Officially known as 30 Doradus, this region of space is characterized by its dusty filaments that resemble the legs of a hairy spider and has long been a favorite spot for astronomers interested in star formation.

Thanks to Webb’s high-resolution infrared instruments, for the first time, thousands of young stars, distant background galaxies, and the detailed structure of the gas and dust structures of the nebula were visible.

Webb works primarily in the infrared spectrum because light from objects in deep space has been stretched to this wavelength as the universe expands.

The telescope’s main sensor, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), found that the cavity at the center of the nebula had been gouged out by radiation carried by the stellar wind from a cluster of massive young stars that appear as pale blue dots.

The Webb Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), which analyzes light patterns to determine the composition of objects, caught one young star in the process of shedding a cloud of dust around it.

The same star was previously thought to be in a later stage of formation, already on its way to clearing its dust bubble.

The area was also captured with a mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), which uses longer infrared wavelengths to penetrate dust particles that absorb or scatter shorter wavelengths.

This extinguished hot stars and brightened colder regions, revealing never-before-seen points of light in the stellar nursery that point to protostars that are still gaining mass.

The area was also captured with a mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), which uses longer infrared wavelengths to penetrate dust particles that absorb or scatter shorter wavelengths. — © AFP

The astronomical interest in the Tarantula Nebula is due to the fact that its chemical composition is similar to the giant star-forming regions observed several billion years after the Big Bang, during a period called “cosmic noon”, when star formation reached its peak.

Only 161,000 light-years away, the Tarantula is an easily visible example of this flourishing period of cosmic creation.

Webb should also give scientists a chance to look at distant galaxies from the actual epoch of cosmic noon and compare them with the Tarantula observations to understand the similarities and differences.

Webb, in operation since July, is the most powerful space telescope ever built, and astronomers are confident it will usher in a new era of discovery.

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