Known as NGC 346, this region is the brightest region in the Small Magellanic Cloud and has the highest star birth rate. Using advanced capabilities of near-infrared instruments, astronomers have been able to see both cold and hot dust. The images taken also show protostars. One of them was once the sun.
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The MIRI instrument (Mid-Infrared Instrument) played a key role in the entire project, thanks to which it was possible to learn in detail and depth the secrets of the largest star formation region in the Small Magellanic Cloud. This galaxy, although much smaller than our own, is older than the Milky Way. How do we know this? And all thanks to the compositional analysis, which showed that it contains fewer heavy elements. The latter are created inside stars as a result of nuclear fusion and supernova explosions.
Astronomers have paid special attention to the NGC 346 region in the Small Magellanic Cloud because stars are forming at an exceptionally high rate.
The Small Magellanic Cloud surprised astronomers a little. They expected that they would not encounter much dust, but reality confirmed their assumptions. Thanks to the latest images (and previous images also taken with the James Webb Space Telescope), researchers have noticed large amounts of dust in the region of NGC 346.
How to interpret individual parts of the image above? The blue fibers represent dust containing silicates and molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In turn, the red color indicates hot dust associated with exceptionally bright and massive stars. Bright spots and filaments indicate regions containing large numbers of protostars. This term is used to describe young stars that are still accumulating mass and undergoing basic stages of evolution.
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By combining near and mid-infrared observations, a more complete view of the situation can be obtained. Ultimately, it’s about understanding what young galaxies looked like billions of years ago. Astronomers are particularly interested in the period when the rate of star birth was highest and heavy elements were less than it is today.
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