A new infrared image of the reflection nebula NGC 1333, located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Perseus, reveals dozens of stars like the Sun but much younger.
“These newborns are less than a million years old – babies by astronomical standards,” said Rob Gutermuth of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “Our Sun may have formed in a similar environment 4.5 billion years ago.”
Most of the visible light from the region’s young stars is obscured by the dusty cloud in which they formed. With the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers can detect infrared light from these objects, allowing them to peer through the dust and gain a more detailed understanding of how stars like our Sun are born.
Spitzer’s infrared view of NGC 1333 uncovered streaks and splotches of nebulosity that appear green in this color-coded image. These features are glowing shock fronts where jets of material spewed from the youngest protostars have rammed into the cold natal gas cloud. By stirring up the cold gas, these jets may eventually clear away the gas, shutting down future star formation.
“The sheer number of separate jets that appear in this region is unprecedented,” said Alicia Porras of CfA. “Sorting through them and untangling them will prove quite a challenge as we try to identify which protostar is the source of each jet.”