Tuesday, August 9, 2022

NASA’s Webb captured the dying star’s final performance in unprecedented detail

Some stars save the best for last.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured an image of a planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132. At the center of the image, the dimmer star has been sending out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years in all directions. The telescope revealed that the star is cloaked in dust for the first time.

NGC 3132 is also known as Southern Ring Nebula. It is approximately 2,500 light-years away.

The Southern Ring Nebula appears virtually face-on in this observation. Still, if it could be rotated to be seen edge-on, its three-dimensional shape would more clearly look like two bowls placed together at the bottom, opening apart with a sizable hole in the center.

The surroundings are shaped by two stars that are tightly orbiting each other. New information about this intricate system is revealed in Webb’s infrared photos. While the image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the right reveals for the first time that the second star is surrounded by dust, the image from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on the left is more prominently focused on the stars and their layers of light.

Due to the brighter star’s earlier stage of stellar evolution, likely, it will eventually eject its planetary nebula. In the meantime, the brighter star influences the nebula’s appearance. As the pair continues to orbit one another, they “stir the pot” of gas and dust, causing asymmetrical patterns.

NASA stated“Each shell represents an episode where the fainter star lost some of its mass. The widest shells of gas toward the outer areas of the image were ejected earlier. Those closest to the star are the most recent. Tracing these ejections allows researchers to look into the system’s history.”

“Observations were taken with NIRCam also reveal extremely fine rays of light around the planetary nebula. Starlight from the central stars streams out where there are holes in the gas and dust – like sunlight through gaps in a cloud.”

“Observations were taken with NIRCam also reveal extremely fine rays of light around the planetary nebula. Starlight from the central stars streams out where there are holes in the gas and dust – like sunlight through gaps in a cloud.”

“Webb will allow astronomers to dig into many more specifics about planetary nebulae like this one – clouds of gas and dust expelled by dying stars. Understanding which molecules are present and where they lie throughout the shells of gas and dust will help researchers refine their knowledge of these objects.”

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