James Webb Telescope Captures Spectacular Rainbow Shockwaves Emanating from a Newly Formed Sun-Like Star

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has recently observed a young star resembling our sun, emitting powerful supersonic jets of gas and dust into space, creating spectacular shockwaves reminiscent of lightsabers, as described by researchers. In the latest JWST image, the newborn star, known as a protostar, remains hidden from view. However, scientists have pinpointed its location at the center of the dark expanse between two radiant streams of outflowing gas and dust called bipolar jets. These jets emanate from the growing stellar mass referred to as Herbig-Haro 211 (HH 211), which is illuminated by a nascent star. HH 211, situated approximately 1,000 light-years away in the Perseus constellation, was originally discovered in 1994. NASA estimates that the protostar, judging by the size of the jets, is only a few thousand years old and approximately 8% of the sun’s mass. Nevertheless, it is projected to reach a size comparable to that of the sun over the course of millions of years, implying that our own star might have appeared quite similar to HH 211 in its early stages.

In a recent study published on August 24 in the journal Nature, researchers closely examined the new image of HH 211 to ascertain the composition of the jets. These streams of matter emit light when they interact with the surrounding clouds of gas, exciting various atoms and molecules. Tom Ray, an astrophysicist at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the lead author of the study, explained that the JWST’s near-infrared camera facilitates the identification of the jet components. The infrared images indicate that the jets primarily consist of molecules, which are combinations of two or more atoms linked by chemical bonds. Surprisingly, this differs from the expectations of the researchers, who anticipated that, like other bipolar jets, HH 211 would predominantly contain individual atoms or ions. The team speculates that the slower flow of material in HH 211 allows molecules to remain intact, whereas faster speeds would break them down into individual atoms and ions. The reason for the slower pace of the HH 211 jets, as opposed to other bipolar jets, is currently a puzzling mystery, according to Ray.

Another intriguing aspect of the new image is the “wiggling” tendrils of gas and dust situated at the center of each jet’s base, closest to the protostar. This uneven distribution of matter, mirrored in both jets, raises the possibility that the protostar may have an unresolved binary star companion—another protostar with the potential to evolve into a stellar partner, as suggested by NASA. However, further investigation is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The level of detail captured by the JWST is groundbreaking, with spatial resolution five to ten times higher than any previous image of HH 211, as highlighted by NASA. This showcases the JWST’s ability to reveal deeper insights into cosmic structures that have already been extensively studied, as noted by Tom Ray.

In recent news, the JWST made headlines by potentially detecting signs of extraterrestrial life on an exoplanet located approximately 120 light-years from Earth.

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