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A cosmic hourglass: Webb captures image of protostar swathed in dark clouds

New image offers window into what our Sun and Solar System looked like in infancy.



The protostar L1527 is embedded within a cloud of material that is feeding its growth.

Just last month, the James Webb Telescope gifted us a spectacular new image of the Pillars of Creation—arguably the most famous image taken by Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, in 1995. Now the telescope is giving astronomers clues about the formation of a new star, with a stunning image of an hourglass-shaped dark cloud surrounding a protostar, an object known as L1527.

As we’ve reported previously, the James Webb Space Telescope launched in December 2021 and, after a suspenseful sunshield and mirror deployment over several months, began capturing stunning images. First, there was the deep field image of the Universe, released in July. This was followed by images of exoplanet atmospheres, the Southern Ring Nebula, a cluster of interacting galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet, and the Carina Nebula, a star-forming region about 7,600 light-years away.

In August, we received gorgeous images of Jupiter, including the auroras at both poles that result from Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, as well as its thin rings and two of the gas giant’s small moons. This was followed a month later by a mosaic image showing a panorama of star formation stretching across a staggering 340 light-years in the Tarantula Nebula—so named because of its long, dusty filaments. We also were treated to spectacular images of Neptune and its rings, which have not been directly observed since Voyager 2 flew by the planet in 1989, and, as already mentioned, the Pillars of Creation.

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