The latest wonder of the James Webb telescope: captures a mysterious 'incubator' of galaxies

The latest wonder of the James Webb telescope: captures a mysterious ‘incubator’ of galaxies

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We are more than used to it because the James Webb Space Telescope from NASA amazed us with their discoveries. Sometimes in the form of images and other times in the form of incredible data, the device classified as one of the greatest advances in aerospace history, continues to make people talk even months after being put into service. Now, NASA has republished its findings, this time concerning a star formation in a dynamic star cluster.

Talk later of NGC 346, a zone of dynamic star formation that is located in SMC, the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy close to the Milky Way. Researchers and astronomers have been investigating this area for a long time because, according to NASA, the “conditions and amounts of metals within SMC are similar to those observed in galaxies.” billions of years ago,” during the era known as ‘cosmic noon’.

According to NASA in a statement, the key is that SMC has lower concentrations of elements such as helium or hydrogen compared to our galaxy. And it is that the Webb has refuted a theory about this cluster that said that, due to its composition, it would be more difficult to detect. In this way, they have found large amounts of dust in the region.

More Webb Discoveries

Originally, because dust grains in space are mostly made of these kinds of elements (which astronomers call metals), NASA astronomers expected to find only tiny amounts of dust.

But what is cosmic noon? This expression refers to a stage of formation of the universe that occurred presumably 10 billion years ago moment in which the birth of stars in massive galaxies followed one another rapidly. Of course, it was brief, since as the dust for these formations dissipated and the gas heated up, this rate of star formation diminished.

NGC 346, captured by Webb without cropping.

NASA, ESA, CSA, O. Jones (UK ATC), G. De Marchi (ESTEC), and M. Meixner (USRA)


According to NASA, 2 to 3 billion years after the Big Bang, “galaxies were forming stars at a dizzying rate. The fireworks of star formation that occurred then they still shape the galaxies we see around us today.” And it is that if this region of star formation was the object of study it was because according to astronomers, the amount of metals in SMC as well as their conditions were similar to those observed in galaxies belonging to that time.

This is detailed by Margaret Meixner, an astronomer at the Space Research Association of universities and principal investigator. “A galaxy at cosmic noon would not have one NGC 346 like the Small Magellanic Cloud; it would have thousands.” The expert details that even if NGC 346 “is now the only massive cluster that furiously forms stars in its galaxy, it offers us a great opportunity to investigate the conditions that existed at cosmic noon.”

[El telescopio James Webb capta una espectacular fusión de galaxias en todo su esplendor]

And it is that with the Webb, it is easier to investigate light-weight protostars, “as small as a tenth of our Sun,” says Olivia Jones, from the United Kingdom Center for Astronomy Technology, at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. Thus, it is possible to check “if its formation process is affected by the lower metal content”. Investigating these stars in formation, it can be verified if the formation process in SMC it is different from what we see in the Milky Way.

In this way, Webb was able to capture NGC 346 in all its splendor thanks to NASA’s NIRCam camera. It reveals “the presence of many more building blocks than expected, not only for stars but also for planets, in the form of clouds filled with dust and hydrogen,” explains the space agency.

Artist's recreation of James Webb

Artist’s recreation of James Webb

NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

Arches and columns of gas are also revealed in them: the pink gas represents energized hydrogen, hot at temperatures of 10,000 degrees, and the orange representing dense molecular hydrogen, which is much colder at minus 200 degrees. The coldest gas is ideal for star formation, changing “the environment around it” along the way.

Guido de Marchi, from the European Space Agency and a co-investigator on the team, says that they are seeing “the building blocks, not only of stars, but also potentially of planets.” He further notes that since SMC “has an environment similar to that of galaxies during cosmic noon, rocky planets may have formed earlier in the universe than we thought.”

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