The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has unveiled a captivating view of the birth of a star, shedding light on a process that occurred 4.6 billion years ago when our own Sun was in its infancy. This extraordinary image showcases the star-forming region HH212 in the Orion constellation, offering a glimpse into the celestial spectacle of a star coming into existence, just 50,000 years old.
Located about 1,300 light-years from Earth near Orion’s distinctive belt of three bright stars, HH212 reveals its star’s birth veiled behind a dense disk of swirling gas and dust. What remains visible are vibrant pink and red jets radiating in polar opposite directions, created by the presence of molecular hydrogen.
These vividly colored jets indicate the role of molecular hydrogen and shockwaves in the star’s formation. As Professor Mark McCaughrean, Senior Scientific Advisor at the European Space Agency, explains, these jets and outflows play a pivotal role in eliminating the angular momentum of the compacting gas ball at the star’s center. Magnetic fields are instrumental in this process, capturing material from the disk and ejecting it through the poles, resulting in the distinct bi-polar shape of these structures.
The striking symmetry of the image showcases the knots of brightness in both the left and right jets, highlighting bowshocks where faster and slower materials collide to create mesmerizing formations. Notably, a slightly chaotic bowshock on the right side hints at a complementary counterpart on the opposite side, with the lower density of gas and dust causing it to appear more diffuse.
Astronomers have been studying HH212 for over three decades, with the JWST’s latest image offering ten times the clarity of previous views, enabling a more in-depth exploration of the intricate processes involved in star formation. Researchers are planning to create a movie using the image history to track changes in the jet structures over time and measure their velocities, some of which reach speeds exceeding 100 kilometers per second.
The “HH” in HH212 pays homage to George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, who pioneered the study of such celestial objects in the 1940s and 1950s. Their work laid the foundation for our understanding of these mesmerizing phenomena.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s exceptional capabilities extend beyond image sharpness, offering a broader spectrum of detectable colors and making it an indispensable tool for modern astrophysical research.