NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has made an extraordinary observation of a Wolf-Rayet star, WR 124, which is one of the most luminous, massive, and short-lived stars known to man.
Webb Telescope caught the massive star about to go Supernova. The sighting is rare. The telescope made the first breakthroughs in June 2022.
For the first time, the powerful infrared instruments on the telescope enabled it to capture unparalleled details of the star, located in the constellation Sagitta, 15,000 light-years away.
Wolf-Rayet star WR 124 about to go Supernova
The lifespan of massive stars is short, and only a select few undergo a rare Wolf-Rayet phase before exploding into supernovae. This makes the recent detailed observations made by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope of this elusive phase particularly valuable to astronomers.
During the Wolf-Rayet phase, stars cast off their outer layers, producing a distinctive halo of gas and dust. The star WR 124, for example, has shed ten times the mass of the Sun and continues to do so. The ejected gas cools and forms cosmic dust that radiates infrared light detected by Webb’s powerful instruments.
Endings can be beautiful.
@NASAWebb recently captured the rare, "blink & you'll miss it" (on cosmic time scales) radiance of a Wolf-Rayet star. During this phase of its life, a star sheds layers of gas & dust, just before exploding in a supernova.https://t.co/4EcQd4XP1m pic.twitter.com/P0GCt5rCL9
— NASA Goddard (@NASAGoddard) March 16, 2023
Astronomers are particularly interested in the origin of cosmic dust that can survive the intense impact of a supernova and contribute to the overall “dust budget” of the universe. Dust is a crucial element in the workings of the universe, playing an essential role in the formation of stars, planets, and even the building blocks of life on Earth.
Despite its significance, there is still more dust in the universe than current dust-formation theories can explain, leading to a surplus in the dust budget. This phenomenon presents an intriguing topic for astronomers to explore further as they strive to gain a deeper understanding of the universe’s workings.
Webb Telescope reveals cosmic dust mysteries
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has opened up new possibilities for studying cosmic dust in unprecedented detail, particularly in the infrared wavelengths of light.
The telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) has succeeded in balancing the brightness of the stellar core of WR 124, one of the most massive and luminous stars in the universe, with the fainter surrounding gas.
Additionally, the telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) has revealed the clumpy structure of the gas and dust nebula of the ejected material surrounding the star.
For the first time, dust-loving astronomers have sufficient detailed information to explore the questions of dust production in environments like WR 124, such as whether the dust grains are large and abundant enough to survive the supernova and become a significant contribution to the overall dust budget.
Webb’s detailed image of WR 124 captures a brief but turbulent period of transformation, offering a unique opportunity for future discoveries that will shed light on the mysteries of cosmic dust that have long eluded astronomers, according to the Webb Space Telescope website.
The telescope’s ability to observe these rare celestial events in unprecedented detail promises to be a major breakthrough in the study of the universe’s workings.
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