What is this fingerprint figure seen in James Webb's Telescope latest image?

Updated on Oct 13, 2022 06:05 PM IST

This pattern hints how stars and planets might have formed. The fact that the dust shells have survived suggests that the dust can endure in the harsh environment between stars and go on to provide the raw materials for new stars and planets.

This image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows 'fingerprint' in space.( NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JPL-Caltech)
This image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows 'fingerprint' in space.( NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JPL-Caltech)
By | Edited by Aryan Prakash

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's James Webb Space Telescope on Wednesday fascinated us with a new image from its space exploration showing a star duo—known as Wolf-Rayet 140, forming ‘Fingerprint’ in space.

This picture reported by Nasa basically shows a Wolf-Rayet star forming at least 17 concentric dust rings in companion with another O star.

How does this pattern form?

The Wolf-Rayet star, so named in honour of French scientists Charles Wolf and George Rayet, is an ageing O-type star that was born with at least 25 times as much mass as the Sun.

As the star approaches the end of its life, it is likely to collapse and create a black hole. It burns hotter than when it was young and produces tremendous winds that propel massive volumes of gas into space.

The report says that the Wolf-Rayet star in this pair may have shed more than half its original mass via this process.

Nasa explains, “each ring was created when the two stars came close together and their stellar winds (streams of gas they blow into space) met, compressing the gas and forming dust.” About every eight years, the stars’ orbits bring them together; the dust loops serve as timekeepers, much like the growth rings on a tree trunk.

Although there are several Wolf-Rayet stars discovered to date, none makes rings as spectacular as formed by this pair - Wolf-Rayet 140.

The report states the unique ring pattern is because the orbit of the Wolf-Rayet star in WR 140 is elongated, not circular. All others with circular orbits produce dust continuously.

The two stars in Wolf-Rayet 140 produce rings, or shells, of dust every time their orbits bring them together.(screengrab/ video credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JPL-Caltech)
The two stars in Wolf-Rayet 140 produce rings, or shells, of dust every time their orbits bring them together.(screengrab/ video credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JPL-Caltech)

How did the gas get converted into dust?

Transforming gas into dust demands specific conditions and elements. The report says the hydrogen (most common element found in stars) can’t form dust on its own.

However, due to the huge amount of mass shed, Wolf-Rayet stars also eject more complex elements that are normally found deep in a star’s interior, including carbon.

The heavy elements in the wind cool as they travel into space and where the winds from both stars, they get compressed under enormous pressure to convert into dust.

Hint about the formation of stars and planets

Nasa mentioned, when a Wolf-Rayet star sweeps an area, the swept-up material may collect at the edges and accumulate to a density where new stars can develop.

The fact that the dust shells have survived suggests that the dust can endure in the harsh environment between stars and go on to provide the raw materials for new stars and planets.

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