(CN) — NASA on Wednesday released an image of a bright star-forming region in the Taurus constellation, captured by the infrared cameras of the James Webb Space Telescope.
At the center of the photo is a hot concentration of gas and dust known as a protostar. Protostars occur in nebulae when gravity pulls enough material together to form a rough sphere. The accretion of gas and dust attracts even more matter, slowly building mass and thermal energy. If the protostar becomes dense and hot enough – about 17.9 million degrees Fahrenheit – hydrogen fusion will begin in its core and new star will be born.
The protostar at the center of the Taurus star-forming region, known as L1527, is far from that milestone. It can take millions of years for hydrogen fusion to spark in the core of a newborn star, and NASA estimates that L1527 is only about 100,000 years old.
"L1527 is considered a class 0 protostar, the earliest stage of star formation," NASA stated in a press release accompanying the image. "Protostars like these, which are still cocooned in a dark cloud of dust and gas, have a long way to go before they become full-fledged stars."
L1527 is not even fully spherical yet, NASA said, noting it is more akin to a "small, hot, and puffy clump of gas" only about 20% to 40% the mass of our sun. But the protostar itself is only part of the image. The rest is dominated by flame-colored regions that stretch above and below the bright epicenter in an hourglass shape.
These regions, only visible in infrared light, are outlines of cavities in the surrounding molecular cloud created when matter that has been drawn into L1527 is subsequently ejected away at high speeds. Their red, orange and blue hues reflect the density of material between the region and the Webb telescope.
"The blue areas are where the dust is thinnest. The thicker the layer of dust, the less blue light is able to escape, creating pockets of orange," NASA said.
The bright ejecta cavities are bisected by a dark ring, roughly the diameter of our own solar system, stretching across L1527's equator. The ring, known as a protoplanetary disk or an accretion disk, is composed of gas and dust slowly falling into L1527 - feeding its eventual growth into a main sequence star.
As it circles the star-to-be, regions of the accretion disk may start to clump together to form planets - the makings of a new solar system. A solar system, NASA said, that likely resembles how our own stellar neighborhood looked some 4.5 billion years ago.
"Ultimately, this view of L1527 provides a window into what our Sun and solar system looked like in their infancy," NASA said.Follow @@djbyrnes1
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