In the image, there are an estimated 500,000 stars glittering.
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) often delights the internet with updates on the latest developments related to galaxies, stars and planets within our solar system. It also shares captivating images captured by its many spacecraft. Now, in its most recent Instagram post, the US Space Agency dropped a "magical view" of the heart of the Milky Way galaxy. The image, taken from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, shows a portion of the dense centre of our home galaxy in unprecedented detail, including never-before-seen features astronomers have yet to explain.
"Wish upon 500,000 stars. Take in this magical view of the heart of our home galaxy. Seen by the @NASAWebb telescope in unprecedented detail, Sagittarius C is a star-forming region about 300 light-years away from the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center," NASA wrote in the caption.
Take a look below:
"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," he added, as per NASA's blog post.
In the image, there are an estimated 500,000 stars glittering, all ranging in size and age. Among them are a cluster of protostars, or dense masses of dust and gas that are still developing and growing into full-fledged stars - including a massive protostar at the cluster's centre that has more than 30 times the mass of the Sun, the Space Agency said.
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It explained that in the image, protostars are releasing glowing material, creating balls of light that emerge from the formation, which appears dramatically dark in infrared light. "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," said Jonathan Tan, research professor of astronomy and one of Crowe's advisers at the University of Virginia. Additionally, according to NASA, James Webb spotted ionized hydrogen emissions surrounding the stellar region's lower edge, depicted in cyan in the image.
Now, astronomers are still trying to determine what has created the vast amount of energized gas, which surpasses what would normally be released by young massive stars. The observation team is also intrigued by structures that look like needles within the ionized hydrogen that are arrayed without any order.
"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 Ruben Fedriani, a co-investigator of the project at the Instituto Astrofisica de Andalucia in Spain.
"Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it," he added.