University of Innsbruck
Bild des Carina-Nebels

This image of the Carina Nebula showcases the potential of JWST by revealing many newly born stars in a stellar nursery which are engulfed by huge amounts of gas and dust.

A clear shot into the cen­ter of the Milky Way

Nadeen B. Sabha from the University of Innsbruck is the first astrophysicist in Austria to lead a research project at the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Together with an international team, she wants to detect very young stars at the center of our Galaxy. Although the birth of stars near a black hole is very unlikely and requires very special conditions, there is evidence for their existence in the center of the Milky Way.

Previous observations have detected faint infrared sources near Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Although very high gas densities are required for stars to overcome the black hole's strong tidal field as they form, there is growing evidence that new stars are being born in the heart of the Milky Way.

With her team, Nadeen Sabha of the Department of Astro and Particle Physics at the University of Innsbruck will now test this hypothesis using the recently commissioned James Webb Space Telescope. “In August and September we will point the telescope at these faint sources in the center of our Galaxy,” says the Jordan-born astrophysicist. “With the new, highly sensitive telescope, it should be possible to detect these newly born stars with relatively low masses.”

If the research team can confirm that these light sources are indeed such young stars, it would mean that planets can also form in the inhospitable environment near black holes at the center of galaxies.

Complementing the studies with the space telescope, Nadeen Sabha is also investigating star formation in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. This high-resolution Earth-based telescope can also be used to observe regions in the center of the Galaxy that are too bright for the highly sensitive James Webb telescope.

Nadeen B. Sabha

Astrophysicist Nadeen B. Sabha

On Nadeen B. Sabha

Innsbruck astrophysicist Nadeen B. Sabha is also involved in three other research projects with the James Webb Space Telescope, two of which also relate to the center of the Milky Way, and a third investigating sources of gravitational waves.

Nadeen B. Sabha studied applied physics at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. As a member of Bonn Cologne Graduate School of Physics and Astronomy (BCGS), she obtained her M.Sc. in experimental physics in 2010 from the University of Cologne, for which she was awarded the DAAD prize 2011 for excellent international students at German universities. By extending on her master thesis work on high resolution infrared studies of the central parsec of our Galaxy, she continued toward her PhD degree which she finished in 2014.

Her research is focused on investigating the Galactic center using infrared observations to study star formation and the stellar population associated with the center’s massive clusters. She is also part of ENGRAVE, an international collaboration dedicated to follow-up studies of electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave sources.

Additionally, part of her work at the University of Innsbruck is participating in the development of the scientific pipelines for the instruments of the next generation (40-m class) ground-based telescope, the ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).