James Webb Space Telescope has revealed a remarkable image of two actively forming stars, Herbig-Haro 46/47. These stars appear as an orange-white splotch in the center of the photo’s red diffraction spikes. Herbig-Haro 46/47 is an important object to study, as it is extremely young, having only been around for a few thousand years. By studying the mass these stars have gathered over time, researchers are able to gain insight into how low-mass stars like our own Sun formed.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured detailed observations of a pair of actively forming young stars known as Herbig-Haro 46/47 in high-resolution near-infrared light. The stars are deeply buried in a disk of gas and dust that sustains their growth by providing them with mass. Although the disk itself is not visible, its presence is indicated by the shadows it casts in the form of two dark, conical regions surrounding the central stars.
The most prominent and striking feature of the observations is the two-sided lobes that extend outward from the central stars. These lobes are depicted in fiery orange and consist of material that was expelled from the stars as they repeatedly ingest and eject surrounding gas and dust. This process continues over thousands of years and results in the billowing patterns seen in the lobes, similar to a fountain being turned on and off in rapid and random succession. The variations in the lobes’ shapes are caused by interactions between material from more recent ejections and older material. The amount of material falling onto the stars at different points in time likely influences the activity of these jets.
The stars’ more recent ejections are represented in thread-like blue, located just below the red horizontal diffraction spike at the 2 o’clock position. On the right side, these ejections form clearer wavy patterns, sometimes disconnected, and end in an uneven light purple circle within the thickest orange region. Lighter blue, curly lines are also visible on the left, near the central stars, but they may be overshadowed by the bright red diffraction spike.
All of these jets and ejections are crucial to the process of star formation itself, as they play a role in regulating how much mass the stars ultimately gather. The disk of gas and dust feeding the stars is relatively small, comparable to a band tightly tied around the stars.
Another significant feature observed in the image is an effervescent blue cloud, which is a region of dense dust and gas known as a nebula or Bok globule. In visible light, this cloud appears nearly black, with only a few background stars visible. However, in the near-infrared image captured by Webb, the telescope can penetrate through the gauzy layers of the cloud, revealing more details of Herbig-Haro 46/47 while also uncovering a range of stars and galaxies located beyond the nebula. The nebula’s edges are outlined in soft orange, forming a backward L shape along the right and bottom sides.
Overall, the observations provide valuable insights into the processes of star formation and the dynamic interactions between young stars and their surrounding material. The high-resolution near-infrared imagery from the James Webb Space Telescope has allowed astronomers to study these phenomena in greater detail and expand our understanding of the early stages of star birth.
The focus is on a significant nebula that influences the shapes of the jets emitted by the central stars known as Herbig-Haro 46/47. As the ejected material collides with the nebula on the lower left side, it provides more opportunities for the jets to interact with molecules within the nebula, causing both the jets and the nebula to light up.
The chapter points out two other areas of interest for comparing the asymmetry of the two lobes. Towards the upper right, there is a blob-like, almost sponge-shaped ejecta that appears separate from the larger lobe. Only a few threads of semi-transparent wisps of material point towards the larger lobe. Additionally, almost transparent, tentacle-like shapes can be seen drifting behind the blob-like ejecta, resembling streamers in a cosmic wind. In contrast, at the lower left, beyond the hefty lobe, an arc is observed. Both the blob-like ejecta and the arc are composed of material that was pushed the farthest, likely as a result of earlier ejections. The arcs seem to point in different directions, suggesting they may have originated from different outflows.
Despite Webb’s image of Herbig-Haro 46/47 appearing to be edge-on, one side of the object is angled slightly closer to Earth. Surprisingly, it’s the smaller right half that is slightly closer. The left side, although larger and brighter, is pointing away from us. The chapter mentions that over millions of years, the stars in Herbig-Haro 46/47 will continue to fully form, and the scene will eventually clear of the multihued ejections, allowing the binary stars to take center stage against a background filled with galaxies.
Two reasons contribute to Webb’s ability to reveal so much detail in Herbig-Haro 46/47. Firstly, the object is relatively close to Earth, making it more accessible for detailed observation. Secondly, Webb’s image is composed of several exposures, which adds depth and allows for a more comprehensive study of the region. Herbig-Haro 46/47 is located in the Vela Constellation and lies at a distance of only 1,470 light-years away from Earth. This proximity makes it an ideal target for the high-resolution observations made by the James Webb Space Telescope.