Described as the world’s most powerful telescope, NASA’s James Web telescope has captured never before seen images of a Wolf-Rayet star in deep space. The Webb telescope captured it in its rare and most fleeting phase of a star on the cusp of death. The pictures were released on Tuesday. The star lies about 15,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Sagittarius. A supernova is touted to be one of the biggest explosions in the universe, it happens at the end of a star’s life.
In the description of the image, NASA officials wrote, “Massive stars race through their life cycles and only some of them go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova, making Webb’s detailed observations of this rare phase valuable to astronomers.”
The agency further added, “Wolf-Rayet stars are in the process of casting off their outer layers, resulting in their characteristic halos of gas and dust.”
The star WR 124 is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has shed 10 Suns’ worth of material – so far. As the ejected gas moves away from the star and cools cosmic dust forms and glows in the infrared light detectable by Webb, according to NASA’s press release.
” Dust is integral to the workings of the universe: It shelters forming stars, gathers together to help form planets, and serves as a platform for molecules to form and clump together – including the building blocks of life on Earth. Despite the many essential roles that dust plays, there is still more dust in the universe than astronomers’ current dust-formation theories can explain. The universe is operating with a dust budget surplus,” NASA said.
Stars like WR 124 also serve as an analogue to help astronomers understand a crucial period in the early history of the universe. Similar dying stars first seeded the young universe with heavy elements forged in their cores – elements that are now common in the current era, including on Earth.
Webb’s detailed image of WR 124 preserves forever a brief, turbulent time of transformation, and promises future discoveries that will reveal the long-shrouded mysteries of cosmic dust.
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