A dynamic star cluster located 200,000 light years away in this NASA James Webb Space Telescope Near-Infrared Camera Webb shows that clouds filled with hydrogen and dust contain a lot more building blocks than previously thought, not just for stars but also for planets.

In addition, this image features brand-new structures that provide a window into the star feeding within.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding NGC 346, one of the nearby galaxies’ most active regions for star formation. With the new information from NASA Webb James Webb Space Telescope, it is now less mysterious.

In the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), a dwarf galaxy close to our Milky Way, you’ll find NCG 346. Compared to the Milky Way, the SMC has lower concentrations of elements known as metals that are heavier than hydrogen or helium.

A dynamic star cluster located 200,000 light years away in this NASA James Webb Space Telescope Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image can be seen here as NGC 346. Webb shows that clouds filled with hydrogen and dust contain a lot more building blocks than previously thought, not just for stars but also for planets.


There are two kinds of hydrogen in the gas arcs and plumes depicted.(NASA Webb)

The more orange gas represents dense, molecular hydrogen, which is much colder at around -200 °C (approximately -300 °F), as well as associated dust. The pink gas represents energized hydrogen, which is typically as hot as around 10,000 °C (approximately 18,000 °F) or more.


The conditions and amount of metals in the SMC resemble those in galaxies billions of years ago, during an era in the universe known as “cosmic noon,” when star formation was at its peak. As a result, scientists investigated this region. Approximately two to three billion years after the big bang, galaxies were rapidly forming stars.

A galaxy would not have one NGC 346 like the Small Magellanic Cloud does at cosmic noon;

According to Margaret Meixner, the principal investigator of the research team and an astronomer at the Universities Space Research Association, “it would have thousands” of star-forming regions like this one. However, despite the fact that NGC 346 is currently the only massive cluster in its galaxy that is frantically forming stars, it provides us with a fantastic opportunity to investigate the conditions that existed at cosmic noon.

Researchers can determine whether the SMC’s star formation process differs from our own Milky Way by observing protostars still in formation. Protostars with masses between 5 and 8 times those of our Sun have been the focus of previous infrared studies of NGC 346.

Stars form by accumulating gas and dust from the surrounding molecular cloud, which can appear as ribbons in Webb images.

Compass arrows, a scale bar, and a color key serve as references in this Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image of the star cluster NGC 346.

A scale bar with the number 50 light-years, 15 parsecs is located in the lower right. The total width of the image is approximately one-fifth the length of the scale bar.


Guido De Marchi of the European Space Agency, a co-investigator on the research team, stated, “We’re seeing the building blocks, not only of stars, but also potentially of planets.” Additionally, since the Small Magellanic Cloud experiences cosmic noon in a similar environment to galaxies, it is possible that rocky planets formed earlier in the universe than previously thought.

Additionally, the spectroscopic data from Webb’s NIRSpec instrument are being analyzed by the team NASA Webb.

The world’s most advanced space science observatory is the James Webb Space Telescope. It will discover the enigmatic structures and origins of our universe, as well as humanity’s place in it, as well as distant worlds around other stars. The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency are partners in the project, which is led by NASA.

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