What just happened? If you were ever curious about what our Sun may have looked like in its early years of formation, NASA may finally have the answer. Using the James Webb Space Telescope, the agency was able to discover a distant star in its infantile stage, and believes it will grow up to be just like our own Sun.
Launched in 2021 and operating since July 2022, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has already taken countless amazing photos and discovered incredible information. From new detailed looks at nearby planets like Jupiter, to viewing an asteroid redirection test and even taking a selfie. The vast amount of technology included within the JWST also allows it to recognize what resources are present on moons and planets hundreds of light years away.
One of the latest discoveries by the JWST, however, hits a little closer to home than you may expect. Using the telescope, NASA discovered an infant star, commonly known as a protostar, within the Perseus constellation located approximately 1,000 light years away from Earth. The star is currently in its Class 0 protostar phase, meaning it is less than 100,000 years old.
A star does not appear how you’d typically expect a star to look when it is in its infant stages. Rather than being a glowing and flaming orb of gases like what we see with our Sun, protostars are usually seen as dark voids accompanied by what is called a Herbig-Haro (HH) object. HH objects are collections of gases outflowing from an infant star, which collide with other gases and dust within the vacuum of space to produce vivid colors.
This HH object is classified as HH 211 and can be seen with its wild shades of blue and pink as the gases are being released by the young star. These gases will likely continue to be exhausted from the star until shortly before it reaches its next protostar phase, Class I, in the distant future. At that point, the star will begin to glow and fuse like our Sun has for billions of years.
NASA is describing the star and its HH object as an “infantile analog of our Sun when it was no more than a few tens of thousands of years old.” Currently, it has a mass of only 8% of what our Sun has, but as time goes on, it will grow into a full-sized star just like the Sun.
In just over a year of operation, NASA seems to have gotten more than its money’s worth with the JWST. Findings such as what was seen here would’ve been much more difficult, if not impossible, with its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. With so many outstanding images and discoveries in such a short period of time, it’s exciting to wonder what the JWST may find in the near future.
Image credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez