Webb captures dying star’s final ‘performance’ in great detail

(ORDO NEWS) — The dimmer star in the center of this photo has been emitting rings of gas and dust in all directions for thousands of years, and NASA‘s James Webb Space Telescope showed for the first time that this star is covered in dust.

Two cameras aboard Webb took the final image of this planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132 and informally known as the South Rim Nebula. It is located at a distance of about 2,500 light years from us.

Webb will allow astronomers to learn more about planetary nebulae like this – clouds of gas and dust ejected by dying stars.

Understanding what molecules are present and where they are in the shells of gas and dust will help researchers improve their knowledge of these objects.

In this observation, the South Ring Nebula is shown almost from the front, but if we could view it from the edge, we would clearly see two bowls, as if placed on top of each other.

The stars and their layers of light stand out in the NIRCam near-infrared camera image on the left, while the MIRI mid-infrared image on the right shows for the first time that the second star is surrounded by dust.

The brightest star is at an earlier stage in its stellar evolution and is likely to eject its own planetary nebula in the future.

In the meantime, a brighter star affects the appearance of the nebula. The pair, continuing to move in orbit, “mixes” gas and dust, creating asymmetric patterns.

Each envelope represents an episode in which the fainter star lost some of its mass. The widest gaseous shells in the outer regions of the image were ejected earlier. Those closest to the star are the most recent. Tracking these outliers allows researchers to look into the system’s history.

Observations made with NIRCam also show extremely thin beams of light around the planetary nebula. Light from the central stars passes through holes in the gas and dust, much like sunlight passing through holes in a cloud.

Because planetary nebulae have existed for tens of thousands of years, watching a nebula is like watching a movie in pure slow motion. Each shell a star ejects gives researchers the ability to accurately measure the amount of gas and dust that is present inside it.

As the star ejects the shells of matter, dust and molecules form inside them, changing the landscape even as the star continues to eject matter. This dust eventually enriches the areas around it, turning into the so-called interstellar medium.

And because this dust is very durable, it can travel through space for billions of years and become part of a new star or planet.

In thousands of years, these thin layers of gas and dust will disperse into the surrounding space.


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