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James Webb telescope captures planet-like structures in Orion Nebula
This early view of the Orion Nebula by the Webb Telescope shows the vast increase in resolving power compared to the Hubble Telescope.
James Webb telescope captures planet-like structures in Orion Nebula
by Clyde Hughes
Washington DC (UPI) Oct 2, 2023

New images from the James Webb Space Telescope released Monday revealed planet-like structures in the Orion Nebula.

The photos shared by the European Space Agency were taken with Webb's near-infrared camera NIRCam and exposed elements of the nebula located south of the Orion belt, which scientists have described as a "treasure trove" for their studies of the formation and early evolution of stars, with a rich diversity of phenomena and objects.

It includes planet-forming disks around young stars, free-floating planetary mass objects along with photodissociation regions.

"At its core is the young Trapezium Cluster of stars, the most massive of which illuminate the surrounding gas and dust with their intense ultraviolet radiation fields," ESA said in a statement. "While protostars continue to form today in the OMC-1 molecular cloud behind.

"These are among the largest Webb mosaics observed to date and given the high resolution and large area, they have been incorporated in ESASky to enable easy exploration of the plethora of interesting astronomical sources contained within them. The short-wavelength mosaic maximizes Webb's angular resolution."

The free-floating objects have been dubbed Jupiter-mass binary objects, or Jumbos. They are too small to be stars, but also defy the conventional definition of a planet because they are not in orbit around a parent star. It also cuts against existing theories of star and planetary formation.

"We were looking for these very small objects and we find them," Mark McCaughrean, a senior adviser for science and exploration at the ESA, said. "We find them down as small as one Jupiter mass, even half a Jupiter mass, floating freely, not attached to a star. Physics says you can't even make objects that small."

ESA said the photos revealed the "intricate network of dust and organic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons."

Under an international agreement, the James Webb Space Telescope is the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space.

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