Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope has captured a colourful image of the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, revealing never-before-seen details that astronomers have yet to explain. In the images, Milky Way’s dense core can be seen in a new light with an estimated 500,000 glittering stars.
The region captured by the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope is called Sagittarius C (Sgr C) and is about 300 light-years from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A, Nasa said in a press statement. “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,” principal investigator Samuel Crowe said in the statement.
According to the researchers, this centre is the most extreme environment in the Milky Way galaxy, where current theories of star formation can be rigorously tested.
One of the most interesting parts of the photo is the presence of protostars. Between the estimated 500,000 stars in the image, there is also a cluster of protostars—stars that are still forming and gaining mass. “These are seen producing outflows that glow like a bonfire in the midst of an infrared-dark cloud,” Nasa explains in the statement.
At the centre of this young cluster is a massive protostar which is known to be over 30 times the mass of our Sun. The bright blue colour part in the image is the large-scale emission from ionized hydrogen, which is caused by energetic photons being emitted by young massive stars. Surprised by the vast extent of the region, astronomers have said that they will work on further investigations.
The galactic centre is a crowded, chaotic place, the astronomers added. It is around 25,000 light-years from Earth, which is close enough for astronomers to study individual stars with the James Webb Space Telescope, collect unprecedented information on how stars form, and how this could depend on the environment in space, especially compared to other regions of the galaxy.
In the statement, Rubén Fedriani, a co-investigator of the project said: “Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it.”