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Webb Telescope Captures Image of Star 30 Times Bigger Than the Sun About to Explode

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a rare and tumultuous image 15,000 light-years from Earth.

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

Some stars briefly become a Wolf-Rayet before exploding in a supernova, so it’s rare for astronomers to spot them.

Big, bright stars burn through their fuel, like hydrogen, over the course of a few hundred thousand years – which is a short time, astronomically speaking. Stars shed their outer layers into rings of gas and dust. Then they explode.

The Webb Telescope glimpsed WR 124 during some of its first science observations in June 2022. The new image, released by NASA on Tuesday at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, reveals unprecedented detail in infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes.

The star, surrounded by a halo of glowing gas and dust, shines at the center of the image.

The Wolf-Rayet star observed by Webb is 30 times the mass of our Sun, which has a mass of about 333,000 Earths. So far, WR 124 has shed about 10 sols worth of material, creating the cool, glowing gas and cosmic dust seen in the image.

On Earth, dust is considered a nuisance that needs to be cleaned up. But cosmic dust throughout the universe swirls along with gas to form stars, planets and the very building blocks of life.

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

The observatory can see through the dust using its observation capabilities at infrared wavelengths of light, including the brightness of the star WR 124, the details of the gas that surrounds it and the irregular structure of the stellar material ejected in the halo.

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

“At the end of a star’s life, they shed their outer layers to the rest of the universe,” Amber Straughn, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and deputy project scientist for science communications at the Webb Telescope, told the conference.

“I think this is one of the most beautiful concepts in all of astronomy. This is Carl Sagan’s concept of stardust, the fact that the iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones were literally forged inside a star that exploded billions of years ago. And that’s what we’re seeing in this new image. This dust is spreading across the cosmos and will eventually create planets. And that’s how we got here, really.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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