NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has discovered a new mysterious class of object as it looks into the Orion Nebula, about 1,344 light-years away.
Jupiter-mass binary objects, or “JUMBOs,” are a bizarre new category of worlds that seemingly defy classification and are causing headaches even for scientists.
They are called JUMBOs because they have a similar mass to Jupiter, but they cannot be planets because they do not orbit a parent star – and they are too small to be stars.
JUMBOs contain steam and methane in their atmosphere and hellish surface temperatures of around 1,830°F (1,000°C), but experts don’t believe they are home to extraterrestrial life.
The JUMBOs have been identified in new images from the European Space Agency (ESA) that show the Orion Nebula in unprecedented detail.
This spectacular wide-angle image from 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 a total of about 40 pairs of Jupiter-mass binary objects (JUMBO). This picture shows five of them
What are JUMBOs?
Jupiter-mass binary objects, or “JUMBOs,” are a new class of objects discovered 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 were found in pairs – hence the binary classification in their name.
According to the agency, data from ground-based telescopes suggested the existence of JUMBOs before they were officially identified by James Webb.
“We looked for these very small objects and found them,” ESA’s Professor Mark McCaughrean told the Guardian.
“We find them as small as a Jupiter mass, even half a Jupiter mass, free-floating, not bound to a star.”
“Physics says you can’t make objects even that small.” We wanted to see, can we break physics? And I think we have that, and that’s good.’
JUMBOs contain the word “binary” in their name because some of them occur in pairs, like binary solar systems with two stars.
The James Webb Telescope observed a total of around 40 JUMBO pairs.
While JUMBOs are too small to be stars, that doesn’t mean they are planets.
On the one hand, they are “free-floating”, meaning they do not orbit a parent star.
They are hot and gassy, have a steam and methane atmosphere, and are about a million years old, making them “babies” in astronomical terms.
On the left, the image from Webb’s shortwave channel NIRCam shows the nebula, its stars and other objects in high resolution in the near infrared. On the right, the image from Webb’s NIRCam longwave channel shows the gas, dust and molecules in the infrared, but with lower spatial resolution. The cavity is mostly filled with ionized gas, seen here in purple, while the surrounding area has a mix of dust and molecular gas, seen in shades of red, brown and green
This shortwave infrared image of the Orion Nebula shows a young star and its protoplanetary disk being formed by the intense ultraviolet radiation and winds of the massive Trapezium stars that lie at the center of the region
Because they are gaseous giants similar to Jupiter, rather than rocky giants like Earth or Mars, JUMBOs are unlikely to host reservoirs of liquid water and are therefore not thought to harbor extraterrestrial life.
Still, JUMBOs remain a mystery to researchers at ESA and NASA because current planet formation theories essentially fail to explain their existence.
It shouldn’t be possible to form Jupiter-sized objects like this through the process that creates stars within a nebula.
A nebula is a huge cloud of dust and gas that occupies the space between stars and serves as a nursery for new stars.
Nebulae form when a star larger than our sun begins to die and releases a solar wind of gas.
The Orion Nebula, about 1,344 light-years from Earth and also known as Messier 42, lies in the Milky Way south of the Orion Belt in the constellation Orion.
Like most nebulae, the Orion Nebula is diffuse, meaning it has no clearly defined boundaries.
It is also one of the brightest nebulae and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.
ESA has released more new images of the Orion Nebula taken by James Webb, including bright “fingers” of escaping gas formed in an explosion about 500 to 1,000 years ago
Another image shows a young star and its protoplanetary disk being formed by intense ultraviolet radiation and winds.
A shortwave infrared image of the Orion Nebula shows bright “fingers” of gas streaming away from an explosion that occurred about 500 to 1,000 years ago at the heart of a dense molecular cloud behind the nebula, possibly when two young, massive stars collided
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST, pictured here in space) is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built
ESA claims the nebula is a “treasure trove” for astronomers studying the formation and early evolution of stars.
It features a rich diversity of phenomena and objects, including free-floating planetary-mass objects such as JUMBOs and protostars (young stars still collecting mass from their parent molecular cloud).
It also contains “brown dwarfs” – astronomical objects that are not true stars or planets and are often referred to 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 core.
The new images are included in ESA’s ESASky application, a free, easy-to-use online interface for visualizing and downloading astronomical data.
The results are published as a preprint on Professor McCaughrean’s website and have yet to undergo peer review.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect the light of the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back at the first galaxies that formed in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the formation of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The giant telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is seen as the 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 minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world and can look back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is said to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA views James Webb as a successor rather than a replacement for Hubble, as the two will continue to work together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 on the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour (27,300 km/h) in a low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles.