James Webb proves the possibility of the formation of exoplanets in the era of “cosmic noon”

An international team of scientists used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to study the scattered star cluster NGC 346 in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The study confirmed the possibility of the formation of exoplanets in the era of “cosmic noon”.

The star cluster NGC 346. Source: 10.1038/s41550-023-01945-7

For many years, astronomers have been studying the formation of exoplanets. The researchers’ interest in this problem is understandable. The more we learn about how new worlds are formed, the closer we will come to answering the age-old question of how many exoplanets in the Universe resemble our Earth.

However, there is one point that has been bothering astronomers for a long time. We are talking about the possibility of the existence of exoplanets in the era of the “cosmic noon”. We are talking about the times when our Universe was only a few billion years old and it was mostly inhabited by low-mass stars with low metal content. For a long time it was believed that the conditions in such systems prevented the accumulation of dust inside the stellar disk and the subsequent formation of exoplanets.

To find the answer to this question, astronomers used JWST. The telescope’s target was the scattered star cluster NGC 346. It is located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The cluster contains hundreds of low-mass stars and in its conditions resembles the Universe of the “cosmic noon”.

Thanks to its ability to see in the infrared range, JWST was able to look deep into the cluster. Its images show that, despite the low metallicity, the young stars in NGC 346 are surrounded by enough dust to form planetary systems in the future. Thus, the first exoplanets in the Universe should have appeared at an early stage of its existence.

Recall that recently JWST also discovered the oldest galaxy cluster in the early Universe.

According to https://phys.org

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