James Webb reveals the Orion Nebula as you’ve never seen it before

Barbie Espinol

The new image shows bright stars and a ‘stellar embryo’ lurking within the heart of the gigantic stellar nursery.

The James Webb Space Telescope has turned its gaze to the Orion Nebula, revealing breath-taking new details of its inner regions.

The gigantic stellar nursery is one of the most studied objects in space, thanks to its massive size – spanning 24 light years across – and its close proximity to Earth. Laying roughly 1,300 light years away, the Orion Nebula can sometimes be seen with the naked eye on Earth.

Now, researchers have captured the most detailed images of the gigantic nebula to date. The new images were targeted by an international collaboration, which included researchers from Western University in Canada.

The stunning image is a composite, which comes from several filters that represents emission from ionised gas, hydrocarbons, molecular gas, dust and scattered starlight. The star that steals the spotlight is Orionis A, which is just bright enough to be seen with the naked eye from a dark location on Earth.

“We are blown away by the breathtaking images of the Orion Nebula.” Western University astrophysicist Els Peeters said. “We started this project in 2017, so we have been waiting more than five years to get these data.”

A range of specific details visible within the Orion Nebula. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, PDRs4All ERS Team, S. Fuenmayor

The amount of subtle details from the image is staggering. The image is rich in filaments of different sizes and shapes, while a young star with disks of gas and dust is visible to the top right. A ‘stellar embryo’ can also be seen, which is expected to gradually grow until it can start nuclear fusion and start shining bright.

“These new observations allow us to better understand how massive stars transform the gas and dust cloud in which they are born,” Peeters said.

The heart of stellar nurseries such as the Orion Nebula are obscured by large amounts of stardust, which makes it impossible to study what is happening inside them.

Webb’s powerful instruments detect the infrared light of the cosmos, which allows observers to see through these layers of dust and get a deeper glimpse within the Nebula.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, but that doesn’t mean Hubble is out for the count. The older space observatory is still able to deliver amazing images of the cosmos.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a “celestial cloudscape” which lies on the outskirts of the Orion Nebula around 1,000 light years from Earth, according to the European Space Agency.

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