International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex

Mains level: NA


Central Idea

  • NASA recently released an image obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope, showcasing the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, which is the closest star-forming region to Earth.
  • This image marked one year since NASA unveiled the telescope’s first scientific results.

What is Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex?

  • The Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex is a molecular cloud located in the constellation Ophiuchus.
  • It is centered 1° south of the star ρ Ophiuchi and extends to other parts of the constellation.
  • At an estimated distance of about 140 parsecs, or 460 light years, it is one of the closest star-forming regions to the Solar System.
  • It consists of several dark nebulae, which are dense regions of interstellar dust and gas that block background starlight.
  • The cloud complex contains numerous young stellar objects, including protostars, young stars, and brown dwarfs.
  • These stellar objects form as the dense material in the cloud collapses under gravity, leading to the birth of new stars.

Observations from the Image

  • Material Jets and Surrounding Gas/Dust: The image illustrates how the material jets emanating from young stars influence the surrounding gas and dust while illuminating molecular hydrogen.
  • Glowing Cave Carved by Stellar Winds: One part of the image shows a star inside a glowing cave carved out in space by its stellar winds.
  • Impressive Nebula with Bright Young Stars: The image showcases an impressive nebula with three bright young stars at the top, revealing the size and detail of the jets and outflows.

Insights from the new findings

  • Formation of New Suns: Rho Ophiuchi image demonstrates the formation of new suns and planet-forming disks, resembling what scientists believe the early solar system looked like over 4.5 billion years ago.
  • Violent Outbursts and Dusty Cocoons: The image unveils the process of stars and planetary systems assembling, as well as the dusty cocoons being disrupted by violent outbursts, portrayed as red jets cutting through the cloud.
  • Visibility through Dust: The Rho Ophiuchi core is usually obscured by extensive amounts of dust, making it invisible to telescopes working in visible light, like the Hubble telescope. However, JSWT penetrates the dust, revealing the young stars within and providing insights into the early stages of star formation.

Back2Basics: James Webb Space Telescope

Collaboration NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency
Launch December 2021
Location Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, approximately 1.5 million km beyond Earth’s orbit
Size and Capability Largest, most powerful infrared space telescope
Successor to Hubble Telescope
Time Observations Can see backwards in time to just after the Big Bang
Objectives Examine every phase of cosmic history, including the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

Look back 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming.

Compare early galaxies to today’s spirals to understand galaxy assembly.

Observe star and planetary system formation.

Study the atmospheres of extrasolar planets and search for signs of life elsewhere in the universe.


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