The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has released yet another new image, providing new insights into how stars formed in the early universe more than 10 billion years ago.
The image shows a young cluster of stars NGC 346, which is more than 200,000 light-years from Earth.
Located in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) – a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way – NGC 346 is interesting to astronomers because it resembles the conditions of the early Universe when star formation was at its peak.
Astronomers believe studying this region could help shed light on how the first stars formed during the “cosmic noon”, which is only two or three billion years after the Big Bang.
Guido De Marchi, of the European Space Agency, and a co-investigator on the research team, said: “We’re seeing the building blocks, not only of stars but also potentially of planets.
“And since the Small Magellanic Cloud has a similar environment to galaxies during cosmic noon, it’s possible that rocky planets could have formed earlier in the Universe than we might have thought.”
The NGC 346 houses protostars – which are clouds of gas and dust in space that are developing into stars.
Astronomers say studying protostars is the best way to understand how stars formed.
As stars form, they gather gas and dust, which can look like ribbons from the surrounding molecular cloud.
The material collects into a disk that feeds the central protostar.
While astronomers have previously detected gas around protostars within NGC 346, JWST’s observations have also detected dust in these disks.
Olivia Jones, Science and Technology Facilities Council Webb Fellow at STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre and lead author on the upcoming paper, currently under peer review, said: “This is the first time we can detect the full sequence of star formation of both low and high mass stars in another galaxy.
“This means we have far more data to study at high resolution, offering us new information on how the birth of stars shapes their environment and even greater insight into the star formation process.”