NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has revealed a mysterious new class of object while observing the Orion Nebula, about 1,344 light years away.
Jupiter-mass binary objects, or ‘JUMBOs’, are a strange new category of worlds that appear to defy classification and have even left scientists scratching their heads.
They are called JUMBO because they have a mass similar to that of Jupiter, but they cannot be planets because they do not orbit a parent star and are too small to be stars.
The JUMBOs contain steam and methane in their atmospheres and hellish surface temperatures of about 1,830°F (1,000°C), but experts do not believe they are home to extraterrestrial life.
The JUMBOs were identified in new images revealed by the European Space Agency (ESA) that show the Orion Nebula in unprecedented detail.
This spectacular wide-angle image provided by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) shows the Orion Nebula, about 1,344 light years from Earth. It reveals the presence of JUMBOs, Jupiter-sized objects that are neither planets nor stars.
The James Webb Telescope observed in total about 40 pairs of Jupiter-mass binary objects (JUMBOs). This image highlights five of them.
What are JUMBOs?
Jupiter-mass binary objects, or ‘JUMBOs’, are a new class of objects detected in the Orion Nebula.
JUMBOs are too small to be stars and cannot be planets as we know them because they do not orbit a parent star.
Some of them have been found in pairs, hence the binary classification in their name.
According to the agency, data from ground-based telescopes hinted at JUMBO’s existence before James Webb formally identified it.
“We were looking for these very small objects and we found them,” said ESA’s Professor Mark McCaughrean. guardian.
“We found them as small as a mass of Jupiter, even half the mass of Jupiter, floating freely, not attached to any star.
‘Physics says that you can’t even make objects that small. We wanted to see, can we break physics? And I think so, which is good.”
JUMBOs include the word “binary” in their name because some of them come in pairs, like binary solar systems that have two stars.
The James Webb Telescope observed about 40 JUMBO pairs in total.
While JUMBOs are too small to be stars, that doesn’t mean they are planets.
For one thing, they are “free-floating,” so they don’t orbit a parent star.
They are hot and gaseous, have atmospheres of steam and methane, and are about a million years old, making them “babies” in astronomical terms.
On the left, Webb’s NIRCam short-wavelength channel image shows the nebula, its stars and other objects in near-infrared high definition. On the right, Webb’s NIRCam long-wavelength channel image reveals gas, dust and molecules in infrared, but at lower spatial resolution. The cavity is mostly filled with ionized gas, seen here in purple, while the surroundings have a mixture of dust and molecular gas seen in reds, browns and greens.
This short-wavelength infrared image of the Orion Nebula shows a young star and its protoplanetary disk being sculpted by intense ultraviolet radiation and winds from the massive Trapezium stars at the center of the region.
Because they are Jupiter-like gas giants rather than rocky ones like Earth or Mars, JUMBOs are unlikely to host deposits of liquid water and are therefore not thought to host extraterrestrial life.
Still, JUMBOs leave ESA and NASA researchers baffled because current theories of planetary formation essentially do not explain their existence.
It should not be possible to form Jupiter-sized objects like this by the process that gives rise to stars inside a nebula.
A nebula is a huge cloud of dust and gas that occupies the space between stars and acts as a nursery for new stars.
Nebulae form when a star larger than our sun begins to die and gives off a solar wind of gas.
The Orion Nebula, about 1,344 light years from Earth and also known as Messier 42, is located in the Milky Way, south of Orion’s Belt, in the constellation Orion.
Like most nebulae, the Orion Nebula is diffuse, meaning it has no well-defined boundaries.
It is also one of the brightest nebulae and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.
ESA has released other new images of the Orion Nebula captured by James Webb, including glowing “fingers” of gas moving away from an explosion that occurred approximately 500 to 1,000 years ago.
Another image shows a young star and its protoplanetary disk sculpted by intense ultraviolet radiation and winds.
Short-wavelength infrared image of the Orion Nebula shows bright “fingers” of gas moving away from an explosion that occurred about 500 to 1,000 years ago in the heart of a dense molecular cloud behind the nebula, perhaps when two stars massive youths collided.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST, pictured here in space) is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built.
The ESA says the nebula is a “hidden treasure” for astronomers studying the formation and early evolution of stars.
It has a rich diversity of phenomena and objects, including free-floating planetary-mass objects like JUMBOs and protostars (young stars that are still accreting mass from their parent molecular cloud).
It also contains “brown dwarfs”, astronomical objects that are not quite stars or planets, often described as “failed stars”.
Brown dwarfs are more massive than planets but, unlike stars, they do not have enough mass to sustain nuclear fusion in their cores.
The new images are included in The ESA ESASky appa free, easy-to-use online interface for viewing and downloading astronomical data.
The findings are published as preprint on Professor McCaughrean’s website and have not yet been peer reviewed.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the first stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to observe the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The huge telescope, which has already cost more than $7bn (£5bn), is seen as a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin, about -387 Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world, capable of looking back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, since the two will work together for a while.
The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 via the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 kph) in low-Earth orbit at about 340 miles altitude.