March 29, 2023

It happened 15,000 years ago, but the light is only now reaching Earth, courtesy of NASA’s James Webb Telescope.

The telescope captured images of a rarely seen star in the Wolf-Rayet phase, on the verge of going supernova.

Wolf-Rayet is among the most luminous, massive, and briefly detectable stellar phases, NASA says. It was one of the first observations by the James Webb Space Telescope in June 2022.

Not all stars go through this phase, but the powerful infrared instruments on the James Webb Telescope captured unprecedented detail of the star WR 124 as it shed its outer layers, which form halos of gas and dust. The star is 15,000 light-years away; a light year is about 5.88 trillion miles.

WR 124 is 30 times the mass of the sun, and has already spewed 10 soles worth of material, NASA said. Cosmic dust drifts away from the star, cools, and begins to glow in infrared light that Webb can detect. Now the shimmering shards resemble a delicate cherry blossom.

“Dust is integral to how the universe works: it harbors forming stars, it gathers together to help form planets, and it serves as a platform for molecules to form and clump together, including the building blocks of life on Earth,” he said. The NASA.

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“Despite the many essential roles that dust plays, there is still more dust in the universe than astronomers’ current theories of dust formation can explain.”

The star’s appearance has changed since the Hubble Space Telescope photographed it decades ago. So it looked more like a ball of fire.

“We have never seen it like this before. It’s really exciting,” said Macarena García Marín, a scientist at the European Space Agency who is part of the project.

This is just the latest in the list of stunning images the telescope has been transmitting since last summer, following its December 2021 launch. Webb sent back a large number of images last July. The images include forming stars, a look inside the Carina Nebula, and the gas giant planet WASP-96b, which is about the size of Saturn.

with cable news services