Webb telescope images show an unprecedented and 'chaotic' view of the center of our galaxy

Researchers plan to use this data to test current theories of star formation.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and S. Crowe (University of Virginia)

The James Webb telescope is back with some more gorgeous images. This time, the telescope eyed the center of the Milky Way galaxy, shining a light on the densest part of our surrounding environs in “unprecedented detail.” Specifically, the images are sourced from a star-forming region called Sagittarius C, or Sgr C for short.

This area is about 300 light-years from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A, and over 25,000 light-years from a little blue rock called Earth. All told, the region boasts over 500,000 stars and various clusters of protostars, which are stars that are still forming and gaining mass. The end result? A stunning cloud of chaos, especially when compared to our region of space, which is decidedly sparse in comparison.

As a matter of fact, the galactic center is “the most extreme environment” in the Milky Way, as stated by University of Virginia professor Jonathan Tan, who assisted the observation team. There has never been any data on this region with this “level of resolution and sensitivity”, until now, thanks to the power of the Webb telescope.

At the center of everything is a massive protostar that weighs more than 30 times our sun. This actually makes the area seem less populated than it actually is, as this solar object blocks light from behind it, so not even Webb can see all of the stars in the region. So what you’re looking at is a conservative estimate of just how crowded the area is. It’s like the Times Square of space, only without a Guy Fieri restaurant (for now.)

James Webb telescope image.
James Webb telescope image. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and S. Crowe (University of Virginia).)

The data provided by these images will allow researchers to put current theories of star formation to “their most rigorous test.” To that end, Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument captured large-scale emission imagery from ionized hydrogen, the blue on the lower side of the image. This is likely the result of young and massive stars releasing energetic photons, but the vast size of the region came as a surprise to researchers, warranting further study.

The observation team’s principal investigator, Samuel Crowe, said that the research enabled by these and forthcoming images will allow scientists to understand the nature of massive stars which is akin to “learning the origin story of much of the universe.”

This is obviously not the first interesting image produced by the James Webb telescope. We’ve seen stars born in the Virgo constellation, water around a comet in the main asteroid belt and a fairly offputting view of the Pillars of Creation, among others. It’s seen things you people wouldn't believe and, luckily, it won’t all be gone like tears in the rain because of the internet and because Webb’s still out there.