James Webb’s stunning image shows the heart of our Milky Way

A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the heart of our galaxy, in a region near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*. The image shows a star-forming region where filaments of dust and gas clump together to give birth to new baby stars.

The image was captured using Webb’s NIRCam instrument, a camera that examines the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum with shorter wavelengths displayed in blue and cyan and longer wavelengths displayed in yellow and red.

The full view from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument reveals a 50 light-year-wide portion of the Milky Way’s dense center. An estimated 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C region (Sgr C), along with some as yet unidentified features. NASA, ESA, ASC, STScI, S. Crowe (UVA)

This region is called Sagittarius C and is located about 300 light years from the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. For reference, Earth is located much further from the galactic center, approximately 26,000 light years from Sagittarius A*.

There are estimated to be up to 500,000 stars in the Sagittarius C region, including many young protostars, some of which will become main sequence stars like our Sun. As stars form, they release powerful stellar winds that blow away nearby matter and prevent more stars from forming very close to them.

These streams are illuminated in the infrared wavelength and the cyan colored spots on the image are created by ionized gas. Young stars give off a lot of energy, which ionizes the hydrogen gas around them and makes them glow in the infrared.

However, there are actually even more stars in this area than can be seen in the image. The pockets of darkness scattered throughout the image are not empty but are dense, dark infrared clouds, comprising a large dense area in the heart of the region.

There are still some surprises in the picture, with some features that scientists need to study further. “Researchers say they have only begun to delve deeper into the wealth of unprecedented high-resolution data that Webb has provided on this region, and many features merit detailed study,” the Webb scientists write. “This includes the pink clouds on the right side of the image, which have never been seen in such detail.”

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