NASA has divided an image from the James Webb Space Telescope that could one day help astronomers answer longstanding questions about our universe. The image you see above shows WR 124, a star in the constellation Sagittarius some 15,000 light-years from Earth. When JWST first sighted WR 124 in June 2022, it captured the star, which was in a Wolf-Rayet phase. According to NASA, only a few massive stars go through such a transition before finally exploding. Those that do are among the largest and most luminous celestial bodies in the night sky. In the case of WR 124, NASA estimates that the star is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has shed about 10 suns’ worth of material to date. Over time, the gas ejected from Wolf-Rayet stars cools and forms cosmic dust.
Beauty lies in impermanence. 🌸
Webb’s stunning image of a super-bright, massive Wolf-Rayet star evokes the ephemeral nature of cherry blossoms. The Wolf-Rayet phase is a fleeting phase that only some stars go through just before they explode: https://t.co/ZOAmKgtshI pic.twitter.com/fC0tL24iUe
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) March 14, 2023
Cosmic dust is something astronomers are keen to study for a number of reasons. The material is an essential building block of the universe. As NASA notes, it protects merging stars and may even come together to form planets. However, at the moment there is no theory that explains the amount of cosmic dust in the universe. The JWST could help astronomers tackle this mystery. “Before Webb, dust-loving astronomers simply didn’t have enough detailed information to study questions about dust production in environments like WR 124 and whether the dust grains were large and plentiful enough to survive the supernova and make a significant contribution to the overall dust budget,” said the NASA. “Now these questions can be explored with real data.”
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