By Ashley Strickland, CNN
(CNN) — A pair of rambunctious young stars takes center stage in a new near-infrared image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.
The two stars, which are still actively forming and closely orbiting one another, are called Herbig-Haro 46/47 and can be found 1,470 light-years away in the Vela constellation.
Although the stellar duo has been studied and observed by many space and ground-based telescopes since the 1950s, Webb has taken the most detailed and highest-resolution image in near-infrared light. The telescope’s capabilities allow it to peer through an otherwise obscuring nebula, filled with gas and dust, that surrounds the stars. In visible-light images taken by other telescopes, the blue nebula has actually looked black.
The stars have been releasing jets of material into space for thousands of years.
The stellar pair can be seen as the orange-white center at the intersection of the red and pink spikes in the image, located deep within an invisible disk of gas and dust that feeds star formation. The only hint of the existence of this disk is in the two darker cone-shaped regions around the stars.
Two orange regions that span out from the stars represent material released by Herbig-Haro 46/47 as they go through a continuous cycle of pulling in and ejecting gas and dust across millennia.
The regions change shape over time as new ejections, seen in blue threads, collide with the older ejected material, creating wavy patterns seen on the right side and curly blue lines on the left.
The larger blue cloud represents the nebula itself, made transparent thanks to Webb’s ability to see through dense gas and dust. The Webb image also showcases a variety of stars and galaxies around and behind the nebula.
The two stars will ultimately finish forming over millions of years, and the brilliantly hued features in the Webb image will diminish as the binary star pair brightens.
The space telescope’s peek at this critical moment in the stellar life cycle will allow astronomers to understand more details about how stars form and evolve over time.
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