James Webb Space Telescope surveyed the star-forming region of NGC 346

(ORDO NEWS) — The star-forming region of NGC 346 is full of mysteries. However, the James Webb Space Telescope has revealed some of its secrets.

NCG 346 is located in the Small Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy close to our Milky Way. The MMO contains lower concentrations of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium than the Milky Way.

Because dust particles in space are made up mostly of metals, scientists expected there would be only a small amount of dust in MMOs. But new Webb data suggests otherwise.

Astronomers have studied NGC 346 because the conditions and the amount of metals in the IMO are similar to those observed during the so-called “cosmic noon”.

During this period, which came about 2-3 billion years after the Big Bang, star formation in galaxies was at its peak.

By observing protostars, researchers can learn whether the process of star formation in the IMO is different from what we observe in the Milky Way.

Previous infrared studies of NGC 346 have focused on protostars that have about five to eight times the mass of the Sun.

“With Webb, we can examine lighter protostars, as small as one-tenth of our Sun, to see if their formation is affected by lower metal content,” said Olivia Jones of the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, co-author of the study.

James Webb Space Telescope surveyed the star forming region of NGC 346 1

As stars form, they collect gas and dust from the surrounding molecular cloud. Material collects into an accretion disk that feeds the central protostar.

Astronomers have detected gas around protostars within NGC 346, but Webb’s near-infrared observations are the first time dust has been detected in these disks.

“We’re seeing the building blocks of not just stars, but potentially planets,” said Guido De Marchi of the European Space Agency, co-author of the research team.

“And since the Small Magellanic Cloud has an environment similar to that of galaxies during cosmic noon, it’s possible that rocky planets could have formed earlier in the history of the universe than we might think.”

The team also has Webb’s NIRSpec spectroscopic observations, which the scientists continue to analyze. These data are expected to provide new insight into the material accumulating on individual protostars.


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