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.”
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.
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)]