The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) unveiled a celestial enigma that has left astronomers baffled. The telescope identified Jupiter-sized planets adrift in the depths of space, not tethered to any parent stars.

The objects are observed to be moving in pairs, a perplexing phenomenon that has sent shockwaves through the astronomical community.

Approximately 40 pairs of these enigmatic objects, informally dubbed JuMBOs or Jupiter Mass Binary Objects, were identified during a detailed survey of the Orion Nebula.

One leading hypothesis suggests that JuMBOs may have formed in regions of the nebula where the material density was insufficient to give rise to full-fledged stars. In these sparse regions, gas and dust may have clumped together, creating planetary-sized objects rather than stars.

Astronomers explore the possibility that these objects initially formed in close proximity to stars but were subsequently ejected into interstellar space due to various gravitational interactions or celestial dynamics. This ejection hypothesis currently stands as the leading theory among astrophysicists.

Professor Mark McCaughrean, the European Space Agency’s senior science adviser, acknowledges that further theoretical work is imperative to shed light on the mystery of JuMBOs and their formation. This discovery challenges our fundamental understanding of star and planet formation, he states.

The capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope, with its resolution and sensitivity in the infrared spectrum, have provided an unprecedented wealth of data compared to older telescopes, including its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Orion Nebula, known as M42, holds a special place in our cosmic neighbourhood as the closest large region where stars are currently forming relative to Earth. Located within the constellation of Orion, named after the mythical Greek hunter, the nebula can be spotted as a faint smudge in the night sky. To locate it, one can simply look for the “sword” that hangs from the hunter’s “belt” in the constellation.

The awe-inspiring image of the Orion Nebula, released by JWST, is not a single snapshot but a mosaic composed of 700 views captured by Webb’s NIRCam instrument during a week of meticulous observations.

Thousands of young stars dot the cosmic canvas, spanning a wide range of masses, from as much as 40 times the mass of our Sun to less than 0.1 times its mass. Many of these youthful stars are encircled by dense discs composed of gas and dust, potentially in the process of birthing new planets. However, the intense ultraviolet radiation and powerful winds emitted by the most massive stars in the region, particularly those within the Trapezium cluster, erode or disrupt some of these discs.