Sagittarius C lies approximately 300 light-years from Sagittarius A*, the 4.3-million-solar-mass black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.
“There’s never been any infrared data on this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity we get with Webb, so we are seeing lots of features here for the first time,” said Samuel Crowe, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia.
“Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this sort of environment in a way that wasn’t possible previously.”
“The Galactic center is the most extreme environment in our Milky Way Galaxy, where current theories of star formation can be put to their most rigorous test,” said University of Virginia’s Professor Jonathan Tan.
Sagittarius C contains an estimated 500,000 protostars — infant stars that are still forming and gaining mass.
At its center is a previously known, massive protostar around 32 times the mass of our Sun.
Professor Tan, Crowe and their colleagues observed Sagittarius C using Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument.
“The cloud the protostars are emerging from is so dense that the light from stars behind it cannot reach Webb, making it appear less crowded when in fact it is one of the most densely packed areas of the image,” they said.
“Smaller infrared-dark clouds dot the image, looking like holes in the starfield. That’s where future stars are forming.”
The NIRCam instrument also captured large-scale emission from ionized hydrogen surrounding the lower side of the dark cloud, shown cyan-colored in the image.
“Typically, this is the result of energetic photons being emitted by young massive stars, but the vast extent of the region shown by Webb is something of a surprise that bears further investigation,” Crowe said.
“Another feature of the region that we plan to examine further is the needle-like structures in the ionized hydrogen, which appear oriented chaotically in many directions.”
“The Galactic center is a crowded, tumultuous place,” said Dr. Rubén Fedriani, an astronomer at the Instituto Astrofísica de Andalucía.
“There are turbulent, magnetized gas clouds that are forming stars, which then impact the surrounding gas with their outflowing winds, jets, and radiation.”
“Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it.”
“The image from Webb is stunning, and the science we will get from it is even better,” Crowe said.
“Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their nuclear cores, so understanding them better is like learning the origin story of much of the Universe.”