Webb Telescope Spots a Star on the Verge of Exploding

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The James Webb Space Telescope has spotted a rare and chaotic sight 15,000 light-years from Earth.

The space observatory has captured this twinkling image of a Wolf-Rayet star called WR 124 in the constellation Sagittarius. Wolf-Rayet stars are among the brightest and most massive stars in the universe.

Some stars briefly become Wolf-Rayet stars before going supernova, so astronomers rarely spot them.

Large, bright stars burn fuel like hydrogen for hundreds of thousands of years—a short time, astronomically speaking. Stars shed their outer layers in the form of rings of gas and dust. Then, they exploded.

Webb Telescope glimpses WR 124 during some of its passes First scientific observation in June 2022The new image, released Tuesday by NASA at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, reveals unprecedented detail in infrared light invisible to the human eye.

Surrounded by a glowing ring of gas and dust, the star shines in the center of the image.

The Wolf-Rayet star that Webb observed was 30 times as massive as our sun, which has a mass of about 333,000 Earths. WR 124 has shed material from about 10 suns so far, creating the cold, glowing gas and cosmic dust seen in the image.

On Earth, dust is seen as an annoyance that needs to be cleaned up. But cosmic dust in the universe swirls with gas to form stars, planets and the building blocks of life.

Astronomers are trying to understand why there is more dust in the universe than their theories can explain, and tools like the Webb telescope can shed new light on this astronomical composition.

Using its observational capabilities in infrared wavelengths of light, the observatory can both see and see through the dust, including the brightness of WR 124’s star, details of the gas around it, and the clumps of stellar material ejected from the halo.

Studying stars like WR 124 with Webb helps astronomers understand what happened in the early universe, when dying stars exploded and released heavy elements that ended up on Earth and our own bodies.

“At the end of their lives, stars shed their outer layers to the rest of the universe,” Dr. Amber Straughn, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Webb Telescope Science Communications Associate Project Scientist, said at the conference. .

“I think it’s one of the most beautiful concepts in all of astronomy. It’s Carl Sagan’s concept of stardust where the iron in the blood and the calcium in the bones actually exploded billions of years ago Forged from inside stars. That’s what we see in this new image. That dust is spreading out into the universe, where it will eventually form planets. In fact, that’s how we got here.”

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