Celestial Tour: Star Birth and Planet Formation

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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 – Fotolia.com
  • Barnard 68 images courtesy of ESO
  • Written by Tracy Vogel
  • Designed by Marc Lussier 
  • Music courtesy of Associated Production Music


Text, Hubble image of the Carina Nebula. Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse 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 the 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 the Carina Nebula INFRARED LIGHT

The Webb Telescope studies infrared light from these newborn stars, helping scientists narrow down ideas about star formation.

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

ILLUSTRATION, 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 the Crab Nebula. Still others are immensely massive, burning through their fuel quickly and exploding as supernovas.

Webb is helping us learn why massive stars seem to form in certain regions of space and what limits their sizes.

Hubble image of the Orion Nebula. Webb also helps us learn about the different phases of star formation and how a star evolves from one stage to another.

Four squares, a star surrounded by dark material 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

Illustration 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. Webb helps us look for these young stars and planetary nurseries, which glow in infrared light.

Ground-based image of Barnard 68, Infrared Light. More stars are now visible.

Text, Webb’s sharp vision allows us to study them in greater detail.

Rings around a planet. Text, ILLUSTRATION. 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 …

or give us small, rocky planets, like Earth?

Elsewhere in our galaxy, we have found giant planets orbiting very close to their stars as well as planets orbiting stars cooler than our sun.

What made our solar system different from those?

Spitzer Space Telescope image of the Orion Nebula INFRARED LIGHT. Building on the discoveries of infrared telescopes like the Spitzer Space Telescope, Webb’s powerful infrared vision moves us closer to solving mysteries about our very existence …

how our star and planet came to be ...

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