NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently captured a remarkable image of a rare sight. It immediately sparked my imagination and reminded me that we’re connected to our universe in all sorts of ways.
The latest JWST image shows two stars “dancing,” forming trails around them. There are at least 17 concentric dust rings around the pair, and they are surprisingly alike human fingerprints.
This star duo is collectively known as Wolf-Rayet 140, and it’s located just over 5,000 light-years from Earth. NASA explains that 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.” The resulting trails appear as a fingerprint, but there’s more to it. Similar to the rings of a tree trunk, these trails mark the passage of time, since the stars’ orbits bring them together about once every eight years.
Multiply the 17 rings by eight years – and you get 136 years of time captured in a single image. Isn’t that mind-blowing? What’s also remarkable about this photo is that it confirms just how powerful JWST is. “Before, we were only able to see two dust rings, using ground-based telescopes,” said Ryan Lau, an astronomer at NSF’s NOIRLab. “Now we see at least 17 of them.”