James Webb Space Telescope captures supersonic outflow of young star

James Webb Space Telescope captures supersonic outflow of young star
  • PublishedSeptember 17, 2023

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured the supersonic outflow of a young star that gives a glimpse of how our Sun may have looked, thousands of years ago.

Key points:

  • NASA said the object, named Herbig-Haro 211, is a young star that is only a “few tens of thousands years old”
  • The James Webb Space Telescope allows researchers to capture the outflows of the star
  • The telescope captured the image using infrared, mapping the entirety of the structure

The telescope’s high resolution, near-infrared image shows the star and the Herbig-Haro that surrounds it – glowing regions that NASA said are formed when stellar winds or jets of gas spewing from new stars form shock waves that collide with nearby gas and dust at extreme speeds.

This specific Herbig-Haro object, named HH 211, is “no more than a few tens of thousands of years old” NASA said, and has a mass only eight per cent of our Sun, though it will likely grow to a similar size.

But the ultra-powerful Webb telescope has allowed researchers to capture the speed of the outflows, a feature beyond the ability of ground-based telescopes.

“Earlier observations of HH 211 with ground-based telescopes revealed giant bow shocks moving away from us (north-west) and moving towards us (south-east) and cavity-like structures in shocked hydrogen and carbon monoxide respectively, as well as a knotty and wiggling bipolar jet in silicon monoxide,” NASA said.

“Researchers have used Webb’s new observations to determine that the object’s outflow is relatively slow in comparison to more evolved protostars with similar types of outflows.

“The team measured the velocities of the innermost outflow structures to be roughly 80 to 100 kilometres per second.

“However, the difference in velocity between these sections of the outflow and the leading material they’re colliding with — the shockwave — is much smaller.

“The researchers concluded that outflows from the youngest stars, like that in the centre of HH 211, are mostly made up of molecules, because the comparatively low shock wave velocities are not energetic enough to break the molecules apart into simpler atoms and ions.”

The telescope captured the image using infrared – the outflows give off infrared light, which the telescope uses to map the structure.


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