Since swinging into action in July, the James Webb Space Telescope has already begun to reshape our perspective of the universe in some spellbinding ways. The latest image from the instrument’s infrared cameras continues this theme with a dramatic look at star formation, which presents as a mesmerizing hourglass-like portrait of glowing cosmic debris.
The subject of Webb’s latest capture is a protostar by the name of L1527, which as a class 0 protostar is considered to be in the earliest stage of star formation, at around 100,000 years old. It therefore remains cocooned in a cloud of dust and gas, and is yet to develop the ability to generate its own energy through nuclear fusion like our own Sun, and other stars throughout the cosmos.
Surrounding L1527 is a swirling disk of gas seen as a tiny dark line in the center, or neck, of the hourglass. As material is ejected away from the protostar it collides with other matter in the region to carve out cavities, the outline of which light up in blue and orange in Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). The bubble-like shapes seen in the upper region are created by sporadic ejections likened to “stellar burps.”
James Webb’s view of the protostar L1527
NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale, A. Pagan, and A. Koekemoer (STScI)
The dramatic hues are the result of differing layers of dust between Webb and the dark clouds surrounding L1527, with blue areas created by thinner layers of dust and orange by the thicker layers. Filaments of molecular hydrogen streak through the clouds as a result of ejection from the protostar.
In its current form, L1527 is an unstable clump of gas between 20 and 40% the mass of our own Sun, but is continuing to build, drawing in the dust and gas from the surrounding clouds. In doing so, it is slowly compressing its core and will increase its temperature to the point where nuclear fusion begins. In this sense, it offers a look at what our own Sun and solar system looked like in their own, formative stages.