This amazingly detailed image captures the rare sight of a giant star’s dying days before it explodes in a supernova and collapses into a black hole.
The Wolf-Rayet phase – lasting at most a few million years – is a key phase in the evolution of massive star giants.
Dubbed WR 124, this one is 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and was photographed in unprecedented detail by James Webb, NASA’s new $10 billion (£7.4 billion) Super Space Telescope.
It’s 30 times larger than our sun and is currently shedding its outer layers in preparation for its impending death.
As it does so, the star ejects a huge cloud of dust and gas, which then cools to create a beautiful halo that glows in the infrared in this spectacular new image.
This amazingly detailed image captures the rare sight of a giant star’s dying days before it explodes in a supernova and collapses into a black hole
WR 124 has already thrown 10 suns worth of material into space and oIf the star runs out of heavy elements to fuse, it will explode.
WHAT ARE WOLF RAYET STARS?
The Wolf-Rayet phase, lasting at most a few million years, is a key phase in the evolution of massive star giants.
Only one star in a hundred million is classified as a Wolf-Rayet — frightfully bright, hot stars doomed to collapse instantaneously in a supernova explosion, leaving behind a black hole.
They stage the massive star flaking off its outer layers in preparation for its impending death.
In doing so, the star ejects a huge cloud of dust and gas, which then cools and creates a beautiful halo that glows in the infrared.
Once the star runs out of heavy elements to fuse, it will explode.
Massive stars race through their life cycles, with few experiencing a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova.
In fact, only one in a hundred million is classified as a Wolf-Rayet — frightfully bright, hot stars doomed to collapse instantly in a supernova explosion, leaving a black hole in their wake.
The fact that the Wolf-Rayet stage is so rare and short makes this discovery by Webb a key one.
It was one of the telescope’s first observations when it began collecting data in June 2022.
The image is important because it should help astronomers figure out exactly how dust behaves and whether the dust grains are large and plentiful enough to survive the upcoming supernova.
Dust is an integral part of the universe and how it works.
It comes together to help form planets, protects stars as they form, and enables the formation and clumping of molecules like those that led to the building blocks of life on Earth.
Similar dying stars first seeded the young universe with heavy elements being forged in their cores – elements that are widespread today, including on our planet.
However, the universe is actually operating with a “dust budget surplus,” and this is exactly what has confused astronomers.
They say there’s still more dust out there in the vast void of space than current dust formation theories can explain.
The Wolf-Rayet phase – lasting at most a few million years – is a key phase in the evolution of massive star giants. Dubbed WR 124, this one is 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and was captured in unprecedented detail by James Webb, NASA’s new $10 billion (£7.4 billion) Super Space Telescope
The new view of the Pandora Cluster stitches four Webb snapshots together into one panoramic image, revealing approximately 50,000 sources of near-infrared light. Pictured is the new telescope
INSTRUMENTS ON THE JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE
NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera) an infrared imaging device from the edge of the visible through the near infrared
NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) will also perform spectroscopy over the same wavelength range.
MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument) will measure the mid to long infrared wavelength range from 5 to 27 microns.
FGS/NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph) is used to stabilize the observatory’s line of sight during scientific observations.
So NASA experts are hoping that determining how dust behaves around Wolf-Rayet stars like WR 124 could help us figure out where all that extra dust is coming from.
Webb is key because his infrared vision can see beyond cosmic dust and get a glimpse of the internal workings of stars like WR 124, which hurl dust into space.
It’s a special trick that other space telescopes like the legendary Hubble can’t do.
NASA’s new telescope is able to use its near-infrared camera (NIRCam) to observe stars like WR 124 as it balances the brightness of their stellar cores against the intricate details of the fainter gas that surrounds them.
The telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) will then be able to reveal this Gas and dust nebulae from ejected material enveloping the star.
Before Webb showed up, astronomers lacked the key detailed information they needed to study questions about dust production in environments like WR 124.
Now they hope to be able to see whether dust grains are large enough to survive a supernova and thus make an important contribution to the overall dust balance.
“Webb’s detailed image of WR 124 forever preserves a brief, turbulent period of transformation and promises future discoveries that will unveil the long-veiled mysteries of the cosmic dust,” NASA said.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope was designed to discover light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The giant telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is believed to be the successor to the Hubble orbiting space telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world, able to look back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is said to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA considers James Webb to be Hubble’s successor rather than a replacement as the two will be working together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 km/h) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles altitude.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-11862325/NASAs-James-Webb-Space-Telescope-spots-huge-star-brink-going-SUPERNOVA.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope discovers a giant star on the verge of going SUPERNOVA