JWST celebrates first year of science with awesome star-forming image

After a year of producing incredible imagery, the James Webb Space Telescope team has released a picture of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, Earth's closest star-forming region

The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, captured in infrared by the James Webb Space Telescope
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (STScI)

To celebrate one year since the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) released its first set of cosmic images, the JWST team has released a glittering scene of Earth’s closest star-forming region. This dazzling shot depicts the chaotic action from the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, which sits around 400 light years away from us.

The region, which has been captured by JWST’s infrared camera NIRCam, comprises around 50 young stars, all of which have a mass similar to or smaller than that of the sun.

The darkest sections of the image represent dense clouds of dust enveloping budding protostars, while the striking splashes of scarlet that criss-cross the scene are protostellar outflows – powerful twin jets of material that shoot out during the early stages of a star’s birth – colliding with interstellar gas.

A glowing cavity of dust dominates the lower half of the image, which has been carved out by the hefty star that sits in its centre, as seen by its slightly purple hue. The star, called S1, is one of the few in the Rho Ophiuchi complex that is more massive than the sun, and emits energetic ultraviolet light that sculpts the bubble. The yellow-orange dust is made from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of the most common compounds found in space.

If you zoom in a little bit closer, protoplanetary discs cast signature shadows across the image, which hints at the planet-hosting potential of the region in the future.

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