James Webb Space Telescope captures supernova start with explosion of cosmic dust


March 15, 2023 | 15:51

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is at it again — this time capturing the sights as a star begins to explode.

“The rare sighting of a Wolf-Rayet star — among the most luminous, most massive and most short-lived detectable stars known — was one of the first observations made by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in June 2022,” NASA said in a declaration. “Webb shows the star, WR 124, in unprecedented detail with its powerful infrared instruments.”

The Wolf-Rayet star is said to be 15,000 light-years away and located in the constellation Sagittarius.

“Only some of them go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova, making Webb’s detailed observations of this rare phase valuable to astronomers,” NASA said.

A supernova is the explosion of a star and the largest explosion to occur in space, the space agency said.

This massive star is 30 times the mass of the sun and is said to have given off 10 suns worth of material. The gas ejected from WR 124 cools and then forms cosmic dust. The image taken by JWST shows the infrared light.

Wolf-Rayet stars are known to be efficient dust producers, and the mid-infrared instrument on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows this to great effect.
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Astronomers said this cosmic dust is essential because it hides forming stars, clumps together to help form planets and acts as a platform for molecules to form and clump together.

“Webb opens up new possibilities for studying details of cosmic dust that are best observed in infrared wavelengths of light,” NASA said. “Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) balances the brightness of WR 124’s stellar core and the knotty details of the fainter surrounding gas. The telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) reveals the clumpy structure of the gas and dust nebula of ejected material that now surrounds the star.”

This JWST image will help astronomers continue to understand a crucial period in the early history of the universe.

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

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