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Unknown celestial objects detected in the Orion Nebula

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Nov19,2023

Neither planets nor stars, these stars should simply not exist. At least in theory.

Unknown celestial objects detected in the Orion Nebula

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This image mosaic shows the trapezium cluster and the interior of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42) captured by the NIRcam instrument of the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Celebrities with a mass slightly less than that of Jupiter – which float freely in space without being linked to a star – have been detected in the Orion Nebula using the James Webb Space Telescope.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">More astonishing still, at least 84 of these 540 objects appear to be traveling in pairs, shows the work of Professor Mark McCaughrean (New window) and his colleagues at the Space Agency European Union (ESA), which will soon be published in a scientific journal, but which have not yet been peer-reviewed.

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Five JuMBOs are visible in this image of the nebula taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

The Orion Nebula, listed as Messier 42 in the sky catalog, is located approximately 1350 light years from Earth.

This nebula was discovered by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc in 1610. It is the closest star nursery to Earth, explains astrophysicist Olivier Hernandez, director of the Montreal Planetarium, who did not participate in the study.

More or less detailed descriptions have been made of the Orion Nebula since the 17th century, but only since the In recent decades, astronomers have discovered objects in profusion and in unparalleled detail.

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The Orion Nebula seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble and Spitzer telescopes had already spotted many forming stars or protoplanetary disks there, but the recent images collected by the James Webb telescope, the most precise to date, offer an even more striking look. They revealed very particular wandering stars, but also thousands of unknown nascent stars, whose mass varies from 0.1 times to 40 times that of the Sun.

The images of the unknown objects were obtained thanks to the different filters of the NIRCam instrument of the James Webb Space Telescope, which works in the near infrared, which made it possible to see with precision regions of space which are usually masked by interstellar dust in visible light.

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This image mosaic shows the cluster of trapezoids and the interior of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42) captured by the instrument NIRcam of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Concretely, the detection of unknown stars was carried out from a mosaic composed of 712 images collected during a week of observation of the Trapezoid cluster located at the center of the nebula. /p>

What the scientists observed was surprising. They discovered many planetary-mass objects that don't fit the definition of a planet, that is, an object that orbits a star. They are, in a way, wandering planets. And about 9% of these objects form pairs.

A quote from Olivier Hernandez, astrophysicist and director of the Montreal Planetarium

We do not yet understand the physical processes that make it possible to form them. We don't have an answer. We will have to review our theoretical models […] to try to understand what is happening, confides the astrophysicist.

These objects were nicknamed JuMBOs, for Jupiter Mass Binary Objects, by the ESA team. If their nature remains to be determined, they could be aborted stars (brown dwarfs in particular) coming from regions of the nebula where the density of matter is insufficient for full-fledged stars to be born.

They could also have formed in the orbit of stars and then be expelled into interstellar space following cataclysmic events. The ejection hypothesis is currently favored, says Professor Mark McCaughrean, principal scientific advisor to the ESA, in a press release.

The question now is how two objects can be knocked out of a star's orbit at the same time.

Astrophysicists think that their formation would be relatively recent in astronomical terms: around 1 million years.

These objects would generally be very hot, the temperature on their surface could reach 1000°C, and their atmospheres would contain steam and methane.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">But without a host star, these worlds could also cool quickly as they move. So they might sometimes exhibit habitable temperatures, as they are gaseous, but their surfaces cannot harbor liquid water even during their brief temperate period, meaning they will never be habitable. /p>

ESA astrophysicists did not take an interest in this region of the sky randomly. Previous data collected by terrestrial telescopes and Hubble suggested the existence of nebulous objects in Orion.

We were looking for these very small objects and we found them!

A quote from Mark McCaughrean, Senior Scientific Advisor to the Agency European Space Agency

This is not the first time wandering planets have been discovered. In 2022, an international team of astrophysicists announced the detection of at least 70 planets of this type in a sector of our galaxy called the Rho Ophiuchi cloud. All these planets could, however, be born in different ways.

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Artistic representation of a planet errante

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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