The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has given astronomers a closer, more detailed look at celestial objects, uncovering previously unknown details. An international team of scientists, including three from the Institute of Astronomy (IA) at UNAM, used the JWST to study the planetary nebula NGC 3132 and made remarkable discoveries.
The team found an extended halo of hydrogen in the form of a spiral structure, which suggests the presence of a binary system. The central star of the nebula showed an infrared excess, indicating the presence of a disk and possibly a quadruple system. Laurence Sabin, an IA astronomer and co-author of the research, stated, "This is possibly a nebula formed by four stars, which has spirals and sort of radial spines."
Sabin added that the JWST provides far more information about the formation and composition of a nebula compared to previous instruments, allowing for a deeper level of analysis. The study was written by about 70 scientists from different countries and institutions. It came out in the journal Nature Astronomy on December 8, 2022.
Guillermo García Segura, another IA researcher and co-author, highlighted the significance of this research, saying, "This is the first time that scientists have access to high-resolution molecular hydrogen imaging, and it is the first time that these structures are shown in molecular hydrogen." He also emphasized that the clumps seen in the images, which are the size of the solar system, contain essential elements for life.
The research started in July 2022, shortly after the images of NGC 3132 were published with the JWST, NIRCam, and MIRI instruments. Researchers at the IA-UNAM Ensenada used hydrodynamic simulations to study how radial structures and clumps form in molecular hydrogen.
García Segura believes that this study shows the potential of the JWST and promises many new discoveries to come. The new equipment allows for the observation of structures that were previously impossible to see with infrared telescopes, opening up new opportunities for astronomy.