The Webb Space Telescope, operated by NASA and the European Space Agency, has made a groundbreaking discovery about the formation of exoplanets in high-mass star-forming regions. The telescope studied one of the protoplanetary disks in the Lobster Nebula (NGC 6357) and found that rocky planets typically found in disks of low-mass star-forming regions can also be found in high-mass star-forming regions. This discovery is reshaping our understanding of how cosmic environments create different types of exoplanets.
The Lobster Nebula (NGC 6357) is a large emission nebula located about 5,500 light-years away from Earth and is home to a large number of young stars. The open star cluster Pismis 24, located in the center of the nebula, is the birthplace of some of the most massive stars in the Milky Way.
The high temperature of these massive stars emits more ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which has a significant impact on the protoplanetary disks around the star formation region. It was previously believed that the extreme conditions near massive stars would make it difficult for rocky planets to form, but the Webb Space Telescope’s observations have challenged this assumption.
María Claudia Ramírez-Tannus, team leader at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, highlighted the importance of the telescope’s findings. She stated, “These results are very important. This is good news for rocky planets, indicating that rocky planets can form in more environments. In addition to being born from low-mass star-forming regions, they may also be born in high-mass star-forming regions.”
The Webb Space Telescope’s eXtreme Ultraviolet Environments (XUE) project aims to unravel these mysteries by targeting 15 disks in three star-forming regions of the Lobster Nebula. The telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) detected a variety of molecules in the protoplanetary disks, including water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, and acetylene.
The new findings suggest that the formation of rocky planets is not limited to specific cosmic environments, and understanding the impact of extreme environments on planets can also allow scientists to better understand how different types of exoplanets are produced. This discovery opens up new avenues for studying planetary formation and pushes the boundaries of our understanding of the cosmic environment’s role in creating exoplanets.