The James Webb Space Telescope captures a star going supernova in unprecedented detail

What just happened? Born out of an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the James Webb Space Telescope is mostly designed to provide detailed observations within the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The latest image captured by the telescope has just confirmed Webb’s excellent capabilities for “infrared astronomy.”

NASA has released a new image taken by James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which depicts a star named “WR 124” located 15,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Sagittarius. WR 124 is a file Wolf Wright-type star, a rare type of star that is among the brightest, most massive, and most detectable, NASA explained.

The space agency said WR 124 was actually one of the first observations made by JWST in June 2022, but the image has now been revealed. A Wolf-Rayet phase is a brief state that some stars go through during their lives before turning supernova, making Webb’s observations a valuable asset for astronomers studying the lives of stars.

NASA said that WR 124 is 30 times the mass of our Sun, and has “dropped” the equivalent of 10 Suns worth of material so far. The ejected gas moves away from the central body and cools, forming cosmic dust and glowing in infrared light that can be detected by Webb’s sophisticated instruments.

The US space agency described Webb’s observation in detail: the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) balances the brightness of WR 124’s stellar core and the details in the faint surrounding gas. The mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) reveals the agglomerated structure of gas and dust from the ejected material surrounding the aforementioned core.

Before Webb, astronomers looking for cosmic dust had no way to capture detailed images and information about a dust-rich environment like the WR 124 nebula. NASA said dust plays an essential role in the inner workings of the universe because it fuels star formation and clumps together to help form planets, molecules and even The basic building blocks of life on Earth.

Dust is an essential component of our universe, yet scientists have yet to explain why the universe appears to contain more dust than current theories of dust composition can justify. NASA noted that the universe is “running on a dust budget surplus.”

Thanks to Webb’s powerful tools, the mystery of cosmic dust can finally be solved once and for all. Wolf-Rayet stars like WR 124 can also help astronomers understand some crucial aspects of the early history of the universe. Similar dying stars were responsible for “seeding” a young universe with heavy elements formed in its cores, those same elements now common on Earth and elsewhere in outer space.

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