Webb discovered planetary composition in molecular clouds

British scientists have found that planetary formation has been detected around hundreds of young stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), a dwarf galaxy adjacent to the Milky Way. The findings, based on data from the James Webb Telescope, help to understand whether planets can form efficiently in galaxies where such raw materials are scarcer than the Milky Way. The study was published April 24 in Nature Astronomy.

Planets begin as microscopic particles of sandy or coal ash-like dust. Over time, dust particles bond together to form gravel, which accumulates into rocky stars, which gently collide to form planetary nuclei. But the raw materials that form the dust — such as elements such as silicon, magnesium, aluminum and iron — are relatively rare in the Microvaria.

Using Webb’s infrared imaging to detect thermal radiation emitted by warm dust, Olivia Jones of the Royal Observatory and colleagues observed hundreds of young, low-mass stars (younger, lighter than our Sun) in a star-forming region called NGC 346 in the Small Magellanic Cloud. They detected signs that dust was close to the young star, meaning that planets should form as the younger star matures.

The study shows that the abundance of rock-forming elements in the Microellanic Cloud resembles that of more distant galaxies, with a redshift of about 2 — a period in cosmic history about 11 to 12 billion years ago that astronomers call “cosmic noon.” Since it is possible that planets formed in the Magellanic Cloud, the authors speculate that planets may have formed during this period and beyond. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

Image courtesy of NASA

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