NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has given us a new, detailed look at the Ring Nebula, the colorful departure of a dying star 2,200 light-years from us.
This telescope is much more powerful than the previous ones, like the Hubble, and has given us some surprising insights.
Also known as planetary nebulae, these dying star clouds were once thought to be simple circular shapes with just a fading star at their center.
We know that these objects look like blurry planets when viewed through small telescopes, which is why they are called “planetary nebulae.”
However, the new images reveal something much more complex and interesting.
The Ring Nebula is easy to see even with binoculars on a clear night. A team of scientists from around the world called ESSENcE specifically studied this nebula.
They used two super powerful cameras on the Webb telescope to take pictures of it. What they found surprised everyone.
First, the glowing ring at the center of the nebula is not just a simple cloud; It consists of about 20,000 clumps of dense gas.
Each of these lumps is as heavy as our earth! In this ring they also found a rare complex carbon molecule not normally found in such places.
Then there were strange “spikes” outside the bright ring that looked like they were pointing away from the central star.
These peaks could only be seen clearly with the Webb telescope, not with older telescopes like the Hubble. Scientists think these spikes may be forming in the shadowed, sheltered areas behind the thick parts of the ring.
Most surprising were the faint circular patterns they saw behind the bright ring. These circular patterns were distributed to form about every 280 years.
This was puzzling because a single dying star could not do it alone in that period of time.
This led scientists to think there might be a second star, a companion to the dying star, that is shaping the patterns as it moves around it.
That second star would be about as far from the dying star as Pluto is from our sun. No other telescope has previously been good enough to find this subtle clue.
So how did a nebula as complex as the Ring Nebula form from a round star? The new images and data suggest there may have been a little help from a companion star.
This finding could change the way we understand dying stars and the beautiful clouds they leave in their wake.
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