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Posted on July 9th, 2024

Out of This World – It’s Twins!

When it comes to the wonders of outer space, there’s always more to be discovered. Scientists received a huge surprise from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope when they turned the telescope toward the WL 20 group of stars. While the region was studied before, it took the advancements of the James Webb Telescope to uncover what researchers used to think was a single star. WL 20S turned out to be twin stars that were formed about 2 million to 4 million years ago.

Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MRI) captured the integral data and was showcased at the 244th  meeting of the American Astronomical Society on June 12, 2024. MRI data also revealed the twin stars have matching streams of gas making their way from the north and south poles.

This is the WL 20S group of stars located in the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region, imaged by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech)

Astronmer, Mary Barsony, who is the lead author of a new paper that details the results, said it was a jaw dropping discovery. She stated that after extensive study of the source that has lasted decades, it was believed that the source, WL 20S, was pretty well known, however, the James Webb Telescope MRI showed there’s still more to be uncovered.

The team ended up with another surprise when additional observations by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is a group of over 60 radio attendees in Chile, found the stars are being circled by disks of gas and dust. It is believed that planets are forming in the disks. The combined results show the twin stars are nearing their early life period, which means more opportunities for scientists to learn about the process of star transition from youth to adulthood.

WL 20S is in the star-forming region of the Milky Way galaxy called Rho Ophiuchi, which is a massive cloud of gas and dust located about 400 light-years away from Earth. It was hidden behind thick dust and gas clouds that blocked most of the visible light wavelengths detected by the human eye. The Webb telescope detects longer wavelengths known as infrared, that can pass through these layers of dust and gas.

The Webb telescope continues to astonish and amaze people as new discoveries are unearthed from its data.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163


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