James Webb’s recent image recreates the “crime scene” of a star’s death

Dec 13, 2022

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

James Webb’s recent image recreates the “crime scene” of a star’s death

Dec 13, 2022

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has opened new possibilities for space observation. Thanks to its infrared cameras, it can see further and observe more details than its predecessor, the Hubble.

The latest observations revealed some previously unknown details of the Southern Ring Nebula, some 2,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Vela. And thanks to the new infrared images and existing data from ESA’s Gaia observatory, researchers were able to precisely pinpoint the mass of the central star before the nebula was created.

Around 2,500 years ago, a star died, ejecting most of its gas to form the Southern Ring Nebula or NGC 3132. And in the latest research, scientists were able to recreate this “crime scene.” Webb spotted this central star along with two more previously unseen ones. Almost 70 researchers from 66 organizations came together to solve this case, led by Orsola De Marco of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. They analyzed Webb’s ten highly detailed exposures of the dying central star, and they had some remarkable conclusions.

According to the calculations, the central star was nearly three times the mass of the Sun before it died and ejected its layers of gas and dust. “After those ejections, it now measures about 60 percent of the mass of the Sun,” NASA writes. “Knowing the initial mass is a critical piece of evidence that helped the team reconstruct the scene and project how the shapes in this nebula may have been created.”

xamine the straight, brightly-lit lines that pierce through the rings of gas and dust around the edges of the Southern Ring Nebula in the James Webb Space Telescope’s image. These “spokes” appear to emanate from one or both of the central stars, marking where light streams through holes in the nebula. A research team projects that the straight lines may have been shot out hundreds of years earlier and at greater speeds than those that appear thicker and curvy. It’s possible the second set is a mix of material that slowed, creating less linear shapes. In this image, blue and green were assigned to Webb’s near-infrared data taken in 2.12 and 4.7 microns (F212N and F470N), and red was assigned to Webb’s mid-infrared data taken in 7.7 microns (F770W).
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and O. De Marco (Macquarie University). Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI)

Additionally, the researchers concluded that the star interacted with one or even two smaller companion stars before shedding its layers. They assume that the interacting stars may have launched two-sided jets, which is what we now see at the edges of the nebula. “This is much more hypothetical, but if two companions were interacting with the dying star, they would launch toppling jets that could explain these opposing bumps,” De Marco explained. “The dusty cloak around the dying star points to these interactions.”

And where are those companion stars now? NASA explains that they are several possibilities. They’re “either dim enough to hide, camouflaged by the bright lights of the two central stars, or have merged with the dying star.” I guess that’s something still to be discovered.

How did up to five stars create the Southern Ring Nebula? Panel 1 shows a wider field with stars 1, 2, and 5, the last of which orbits star 1 far more tightly than star 2 does. Panel 2 zooms way in on the scene, and two other stars (3 and 4) appear in view; star 3 is emitting jets. Panel 3 shows star 1 expanding as it ages. Both stars 3 and 4 have sent off a series of jets. In panel 4 we zoom out to see how light and stellar winds are carving out a bubble-like cavity. Star 1 is surrounded by a dusty disk. In the fifth panel, star 5 is interacting with the ejected gas and dust, generating the system of large rings seen in the outer nebula. The sixth panel portrays the scene as we observe it today.
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, E. Wheatley (STScI)

At first sight, the images reminded me of Markus Hofstätter‘s recent project, showing extreme macro close-ups of the human eye, as the nebula looks like the human eye from up close. These two seemingly different sets of images reminded me that we’re a part of this universe and that maybe we’re truly all made of stars.

[Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and O. De Marco (Macquarie University). Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI)]

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *