NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently captured a fascinating detail of the dense center of our home galaxy. The new image of the heart of the Milky Way showed never-before-seen features of our galactic center. In fact, astronomers have yet to explain the great details of the dense center of the Milky Way.
NASA revealed that this dense region in the image is a star-forming region called Sagittarius C (Sgr C). It is about 300 light years away from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole named Sagittarius A*. Hence, the two regions are not so close astronomically.
“There’s never been any infrared data on this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity we get with Webb, so we are seeing lots of features here for the first time,” said the observation team’s principal investigator Samuel Crowe, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this sort of environment in a way that wasn’t possible previously.”
“The galactic center is the most extreme environment in our Milky Way galaxy, where current theories of star formation can be put to their most rigorous test,” added Professor Jonathan Tan, one of Crowe’s advisors at the University of Virginia.
What You Should Know About the New Image Revealing the Heart of the Milky Way
Astronomers revealed that about 500,000 stars were captured in the recent image. This estimated number of stars is a cluster of protostars. The term, protostars refers to stars that are still undergoing the formation process and gaining mass.
They often produce outflow that glows like a bonfire amid an infrared-dark cloud. Scientists revealed that a massive protostar about 30 times the mass of our Sun exists at the heart of this infant cluster. The protostars in the image are coming out from an extremely dense cloud that the light illuminating behind it finds it difficult to reach James Webb.
Hence, the dense nature of the cloud prevented more stars from appearing in the recent image. So, it appeared less crowded when it remains one of the most densely packed regions of the image. Smaller infrared-dark clouds scattered across the image like holes in the starfield. Astronomers revealed that future stars are gradually forming from the dotted regions.
How James Webb Captured Recent Image
James Webb Space Telescope used its NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument to capture the new features in the recent image. During the observation, it also captured massive-scale emission coming from ionized hydrogen encompassing the lower area of the dark cloud, which is visible in cyan-colored in the new image.
“This is the result of energetic photons being emitted by young massive stars, but the vast extent of the region shown by Webb is something of a surprise that bears further investigation,” Crowe said.
Crowe is also planning to study “the needle-like structures shown in the ionized hydrogen, which appear oriented chaotically in many directions.”
“The galactic center is a crowded, tumultuous place. There are turbulent, magnetized gas clouds that are forming stars, which then impact the surrounding gas with their outflowing winds, jets, and radiation,” said Rubén Fedriani, a co-investigator of the project at the Instituto Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. “Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it.”
Note that the Milky Way galactic center is about 25,000 light years away from Earth. This implies that it is close enough for the Webb space telescope to study and get fascinating details from the region.
“The image from Webb is stunning, and the science we will get from it is even better,” Crowe said. “Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their nuclear cores, so understanding them better is like learning the origin story of much of the universe.”
Note that JWST is the world’s best space telescope unveiling the universe to us since its launch in December 2021. It is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently captured a fascinating detail of the dense center of our home galaxy. Astronomers have never seen anything like this before. What do you think about this scientific discovery?