“James Webb Space Telescope Reveals Potential for Rocky-Planet Formation in Extreme Environments”
An international team of astronomers has made a groundbreaking discovery using the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. By observing water and other molecules in the inner regions of a disc in an extreme environment within our own galaxy, they have found evidence suggesting that rocky-planet formation conditions can occur in regions with massive stars and potentially in a wider range of environments.
This is the first set of results from the eXtreme UV Environments (XUE) James Webb Space Telescope program. The program aims to characterize planet-forming discs in regions where massive stars are formed. The team’s study focuses on a total of 15 discs in three areas of the Lobster Nebula, a large emission nebula located 5500 light-years away in the Scorpius constellation.
The Lobster Nebula is known as a young star formation region, hosting some of the most massive stars in our galaxy and emitting higher levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers can now study the impact of UV radiation on the inner rocky-planet-forming regions of protoplanetary discs around stars similar to our own Sun.
The team’s observations specifically target the protoplanetary disc XUE 1, located in the star cluster Pismis 24. The goal is to characterize the disc’s physical properties and chemical composition. A surprising finding was that despite being exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation, XUE 1 still contains the building blocks of rocky planets, including water and other molecules.
Moreover, the team also detected small, partially crystalline silicate dust grains on the disc’s surface, which are considered the elemental components for rocky planets. These findings suggest that rocky planets can form in a broader range of environments than previously believed.
Further observations from the XUE program are crucial in determining the frequency of these conditions and establishing their commonality. Understanding where and how rocky planets can form is essential in unraveling the mysteries of our universe and potentially finding habitable worlds.
The remarkable research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal, adding significant insights to our understanding of planet formation. The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space, is a monumental collaboration between NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency. Its capabilities are undeniably revolutionizing our knowledge of the universe and expanding the horizons of astronomical research.