The Webb Space Telescope has released a spectacular new image. In the center of this “space hourglass” is a protostar that is only 100,000 years old.
It’s not even young enough to generate fusion power on its own.
NASA said the “colorful” clouds were only visible to the eyes of the Webb Telescope’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam).
The Spitzer Space Telescope and ALMA Array have imaged the L1527 cloud before, revealing the distinctive hourglass cloud shape, but Webb’s near-infrared camera was able to provide such sharp resolution.
L1527 is about 460 light-years from Earth, spans 0.3 light-years, and has a still-growing protostar at its center.
The latter is the earliest stage of stellar evolution and usually lasts about 500,000 years, while the L1527 protostar was born 100,000 years ago and is too young to convert hydrogen into helium to provide energy for itself.
Right now, it’s basically just a spherical mass of expanding gas, about 20 to 40 percent the mass of the Sun.
As can be seen from the photo, there is a black line in the center of the hourglass shape, which is the protoplanetary disk of the protostar, and the hourglass shape is the light of the protostar illuminating the surrounding gas and dust layers.
Eventually, the protoplanetary disk is further compressed and the core temperature rises, reaching the threshold of “starting nuclear fusion” and giving birth to new stars.
In other words, L1527 will be used as a time machine reference to show us how the sun and the solar system were first born.