In the vast cosmic nursery, where stars are born and galaxies take shape, a mesmerizing dance unfolds, and it’s captured in exquisite detail by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Meet HH 211, a dazzling example of a Herbig-Haro (HH) object, a luminous region that shrouds newborn stars. These celestial wonders come to life when the fierce stellar winds or powerful jets of gas from these infant stars collide head-on with surrounding gas and dust at breathtaking velocities.
In the image unveiled by the James Webb Space Telescope, HH 211 takes center stage, revealing a captivating outflow from a Class 0 protostar. Picture this protostar as an infantile version of our Sun, a cosmic toddler no older than a few tens of thousands of years, with a mass a mere 8% of our present-day Sun. This tiny spark of a star will eventually grow into a brilliant sun like the one that warms our home planet.
What makes the James Webb Space Telescope particularly adept at this cosmic storytelling is its infrared imaging prowess. Newborn stars like HH 211 remain shrouded within the gas from the molecular cloud where they were born.
However, infrared light, emitted by molecules excited by the turbulent conditions of this celestial nursery, pierces through the veils of obscuring gas and dust. Thus, Herbig-Haro objects like HH 211 become ideal subjects for Webb’s sensitive infrared instruments, enabling researchers to map the intricate structure of these cosmic phenomena.
In this stunning image, a series of bow shocks unfurl to the southeast (lower-left) and northwest (upper-right), propelled by the narrow bipolar jet that powers them. Webb’s unprecedented spatial resolution, 5 to 10 times higher than any previous images of HH 211, reveals the inner jet’s intriguing “wiggle,” mirrored symmetrically on either side of the central protostar. This tantalizing observation hints that the protostar might conceal an unresolved binary star system within.
HH 211’s story doesn’t end here; it continues to unveil its secrets. Previous observations with ground-based telescopes exposed giant bow shocks moving in opposite directions and cavity-like structures in shocked hydrogen and carbon monoxide. A knotty, oscillating bipolar jet in silicon monoxide added further intrigue to this cosmic tale.
Webb’s new observations have brought us closer to deciphering HH 211’s narrative. They reveal that this object’s outflow, while powerful, is relatively slow when compared to more mature protostars with similar outflows. The innermost structures of the outflow move at speeds between 48 to 60 miles per second (80 to 100 kilometers per second).
Remarkably, the difference in velocity between these outflow sections and the shockwave they collide with is quite minimal. This intriguing finding suggests that outflows from the youngest stars, like HH 211’s central star, consist mostly of molecules. The lower shock wave velocities lack the energy needed to break these molecules down into simpler atoms and ions.
In the grand cosmic theater, the James Webb Space Telescope continues to unveil captivating performances and celestial stories. As we gaze upon HH 211, we glimpse the mesmerizing birth of stars, a fundamental process in the ever-evolving drama of the cosmos. Webb, the world’s premier space science observatory, is not just solving mysteries; it’s providing us with a front-row seat to the majestic spectacle of the universe and our place within it.