• Science
  • Space

The Webb Telescope’s Latest Image Reveals The Birth of Very Young Stars

4 minute read

It was one year ago yesterday that the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope—25 years in development—proved it was worth all the time and treasure, when NASA released the observatory’s first clutch of eye-popping images. The pictures—of a distant galactic cluster, a relatively nearby star-forming nebula, a quintet of dusty galaxies, and more—were unveiled with much fanfare at a White House event attended by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Yesterday, to mark the anniversary of that big reveal, Webb scientists scored again, releasing another bit of eye candy imagery—this time of a star-forming region known as the Rho Opiuchi cloud complex. The formation, located just 390 light years from Earth, makes an especially good subject for study, since its relative arms-length distance means there are no foreground stars to obscure the image.

“On its first anniversary, the James Webb Telescope has already delivered upon its promise to unfold the universe, gifting humanity with a breathtaking treasure trove of images and science that will last for decades,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Mission Science Directorate, in a statement that accompanied the release of this week’s image.

The new picture, while stunning, does take some scientific unpacking. As NASA explains, Rho Opiuchi contains about 50 young stars, nearly all of them roughly the size of our sun. The colors in the image vary from a milky white to a dark brown to a deep red. The brown regions are where the dust is the thickest—and the greatest number of young protostars are forming. The red region, which forms a curtain-like structure on the right hand side of the picture, represents huge jets of molecular hydrogen, which occur when a newly birthed star emerges from its dust womb and reveals itself to the universe. One star, known as S1, situated at the center of the image, has gravitationally cleared the dust clouds around it and is the only star in Rho Opiuchi that is more massive than the sun.

“Our own sun experienced a phase like this not long ago,” said Webb project scientist Klaus Pontoppidan, in the statement. “Now we have the opportunity to see another star’s story.”

The Rho Opiuchi image was released one day after another Webb triumph: the discovery of the most distant black hole ever confirmed. Located at the center of a remote galaxy known as CEERS 1019, the black hole dates back to just 570 million years after the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago. Webb scientists believe they may have already detected other, even older black holes, but those observations still await further analysis before they can be confirmed. The newly confirmed black hole is a relatively small one—just nine million times the mass of our sun, compared to supermassive black holes, which can weigh in at 60 billion times the sun’s mass.

Webb is not resting after its two-win week. Over the past twelve months, more than 1,000 research proposals have been submitted by astronomers from around the world, requesting access to the telescope to conduct investigations of promising regions of space. The Webb team can grant only about a fifth of these requests and the time the lucky 200 get on the telescope is limited. That’s the way it’s been for Webb’s first year of life, and that’s the way it’s likely to be for the twenty or so more it’s thought to have ahead of it. Rho Opiuchi, though a dazzler, will be one of only an untold number of Webb discoveries yet to come.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com