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Starbirth Planet Formation

Celestial Tour: Star Birth and Planet Formation

The Webb Space Telescope will help us learn why massive stars seem to form in certain regions of space, and what limits their sizes.


Star and Planet Formation
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:

  • Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory

  • Andromeda Galaxy visible-light image courtesy of NOAO/AURA/NSF

  • Rocket launch image ©2008 ESA-CNES-Arianespace/Photo by Optique Video CSG 

  • Sunrise image copyright Jamie Lee –

  • Barnard 68 images courtesy of ESO

  • Written by Tracy Vogel

  • Designed by Marc Lussier 

  • Music courtesy of Associated Production Music



 Text, in 2021, a new telescope will take to the stars. 

The James Webb Space Telescope, located far beyond Earth's Moon in the bitter cold of space, will search for infrared light, the radiation humans perceive as heat. 

A man uses a tool. He works in a face mask. 

Text, Webb's infrared-detecting vision will examine distant planets for traces of water vapor, assisting in the search for another living world. 

The James Webb Space Telescope, Star Birth and Planet Formation 

Hubble image of Carina Nebula. Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse under their own weight into dense clumps. 


 As the objects get denser and hotter, they begin to shine. 

Yet we still have gaps in our knowledge of how stars form. 

How do the dust clouds collapse to create stars? 

Why do stars form mostly in groups? 

How do planets form with them? 

Hubble image of stellar jet in Carina Nebula, Visible Light. Newborn stars are surrounded by clouds of dust that block visible light, sealing the stars' glow inside their dusty cocoons. 

But infrared light can penetrate clouds of dust, passing through that barrier. 

Hubble image of stellar jet in Carina Nebula, Infrared Light. 

The Webb Space Telescope’s infrared-detecting technology will study radiation from these newborn Stars, helping scientists narrow down ideas about star formation. 

Hubble image of Omega Centauri cluster. Stars differ from one another. 

A small red orb and a large gray orb. Text, Some are small and dim. 

The sun above an ocean horizon. Text, Others are medium-sized and yellow, like our Sun. 

Hubble image of Crab Nebula. Still others are immensely massive, burning through their fuel quickly and exploding as supernovae. 

The Webb Space Telescope will help us learn why massive stars seem to form in certain regions of space, and what limits their sizes. 

Hubble image of Orion Nebula. The Webb Space Telescope will also help us learn about the different phases of star formation, and how a star evolves from one stage to another. 

Four squares, a star inside each one. Text, In certain early stages, a star is surrounded by a disk of gas and dust called a circumstellar disc, leftover material from the gas cloud that collapsed to form the star. 

Planets can form in these disks of dust, slowly coalescing from the scraps of star formation 

Artist concept of planet formation 

Dust clouds move and change colors. 

An orange cloud forms a ring with a yellow center. 

The outer portions expand into a larger circle. Small dark orbs move around it. 

A small orb glows in the surrounding darkness. 

Text, Ground-based image of Barnard 68, Visible Light. The Webb Space Telescope will help us look for these young stars and planetary nurseries, which can be seen in infrared light. 

Infrared Light. 

More stars now shine 

It's sharp vision will allow us to study them in greater clarity than we can currently see. 

Rings around a planet. Text, Artist Concept. Scientists hope to learn about some of the factors that influence not only the formation of stars, but the formation of planets 

How do planets form? 

What factors give us giant gas planets, like Jupiter. 

and what factors give us small, rocky planets, like Earth? 

Elsewhere in the galaxy, we have found giant planets orbiting very close to their stars, and planets around stars cooler than our Sun. 

What made our solar system different from those? 

Spitzer Space Telescope image of Orion Nebula, Infrared Light. Building on the discoveries of infrared telescopes like the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Webb Space Telescope's powerful infrared vision will move us closer to solving mysteries about our very existence 

how our star and planet came to be... 

and how many more such solar systems may be waiting out there in the cosmos.