NASA’s James Webb Telescope Captures Image of a Dying Star in Space

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The James Webb Space Telescope captured a rare and short-lived phase of Wolf-Rayet, a dying star (WR 124).

WR 124 is a massive star nearing the end of its life. It’s a rare sight and one of the brightest, most prominent and easiest tracks to find. WR-124 is in the constellation Sagittarius, about 15,000 light-years from Earth. About 5.8 trillion miles equals one light year.

These are some of the first things the James Webb Space Telescope will observe after its launch in late 2021. The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), built into the telescope, observes all the gas and dust that a large, hot star send to space

Glowing purple like cherry blossoms, this debris is used to form the outer layers of stars. Scientists say that only a few stars experience this change. Usually the last step before they explode and go supernova.

Scientists can learn important things from what the James Webb Telescope sees. Most of the time, these stars are in the process of shedding their outer layers, creating a halo of gas and dust around them.

James Webb Space Telescope. Photo: NASA

Approximately 30 times heavier than the Sun, WR 124 has so far lost about 10 times more mass than the Sun. Cosmic dust is formed when the gas ejected by this star moves away from it. As the dust cools, it emits infrared light, which the Webb Telescope can pick up very well.

The dust that makes up the universe can survive supernova explosions and add to the total dust in the galaxy.

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Dust is an important part of how the universe works. It forms stars, planets, and even the building blocks of life on Earth by giving molecules a place to stand.

The Webb telescope gives us new ways to look at details in space dust, best seen in infrared light.

The Webb telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) finds a good balance between the brightness of WR 124’s stellar core and the level of detail in the faint gas surrounding it. Meanwhile, MIRI showed how a cloud of gas and dust formed that surrounded the star.

A similar transition star was imaged long ago by the Hubble Space Telescope. It looked like a ball of fire without fine details.

Before the Webb Telescope was sent into space, scientists didn’t know enough about how dust forms in places like WR 124 to ask questions about it.

From the ESA website on March 17: “Stars like WR 124 also serve as analogs to help scientists understand important moments in the early history of the universe.”

For your information, the heavy elements created in the core of the young universe, even on Earth, came from dying stars like the ones you see in the picture. At the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, NASA showed this image from the Webb Telescope.

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