Webb Telescope captures star's dying moments just before Supernova; Why is it a rare image?

Mar 16, 2023 05:13 PM IST

Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope has captured a detailed Wolf-Rayet phase of a star before it ends into supernova. The star is located 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta.

Nasa's Webb Telescope observed the unusual event of a large star dying. The brief period when the star is in the Wolf-Rayet phase before exploding into a supernova is depicted in stunning detail, providing new opportunities for researchers to examine the emitting cosmic dust.

The Wolf-Rayet 124 (WR 124) is prominent at the center of the James Webb Space Telescope’s detailed image.(Nasa, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)
The Wolf-Rayet 124 (WR 124) is prominent at the center of the James Webb Space Telescope’s detailed image.(Nasa, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

Sharing the picture, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) wrote in a blog post, “The rare sight of a Wolf-Rayet star – among the most luminous, most massive, and most briefly detectable stars known – was one of the first observations made by Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope in June 2022. Webb shows the star, WR 124, in unprecedented detail with its powerful infrared instruments. The star is 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta.”

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Why the Webb's observation is a rare event?

Webb’s detailed observations is rare because only some of the massive stars go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova.

In the picture, Wolf-Rayet stars are in the process of casting off their outer layers, resulting in their characteristic halos of gas and dust. The star WR 124 is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has shed 10 Suns’ worth of material – so far. As the ejected gas moves away from the star and cools, cosmic dust forms and glows in the infrared light detectable by Webb, the US space agency said.

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How helpful is Wolf-Rayet phase observation for scientists?

Nasa says, the origin of cosmic dust that can survive a supernova blast and add to the universe’s overall “dust budget” is very helpful for astronomers.

Dust is essential to how the cosmos functions and is basis of life on Earth. Nasa added, the dust protects young stars, help create planets, and provides a surface for molecules to assemble and clump together. However, it raises the intriguing question of why, despite the numerous critical roles that dust plays, the universe contains more dust than what is currently predicted by dust-formation hypotheses.

“Webb’s detailed image of WR 124 preserves forever a brief, turbulent time of transformation, and promises future discoveries that will reveal the long-shrouded mysteries of cosmic dust,” Nasa said.

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