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The Webb Space Telescope has discovered an unusual cosmic “fingerprint”

The Webb Space Telescope has discovered an unusual cosmic “fingerprint”


Webb’s new images show at least 17 dust rings created by their peers in a rare type of dance of stars and celestial bodies.

New images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have revealed an amazing cosmic spectacle. At least 17 concentric dust rings are visible, mysteriously emanating from the pair of stars. Collectively known as Wolf-Rayet 140, the duo lies just over 5,000 light-years from Earth.

Each ring formed when the stellar winds (streams of gas that blow the stars into space) from two stars collided as they approached each other, compressing the gas and producing dust. About every eight years, the orbits of the stars bring them together. Dust loops show the passage of time like rings on a tree trunk.

“We’re looking at more than a century of his dust production from this system,” said Ryan Lau. “The images also show how sensitive the telescope is. Previously, ground-based telescopes could only see two dust rings. Lau is an astronomer at NSF’s NOIRLab, He is the lead author of a new study on this system published October 12 in Nature Astronomy. In addition to Webb’s overall sensitivity, his Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is uniquely qualified to study dust rings (dust rings). Webb’s scientific instruments detect infrared light, a wavelength range invisible to the human eye. MIRI detects the longest infrared wavelengths. This means it can often detect cooler objects than other Webb instruments, including dust rings. MIRI’s spectrometers also revealed the composition of the dust, which consists primarily of material ejected from the star type known as Wolf-Rayet stars.

Wolf-Rayet stars are her O-type stars born with at least 25 times the mass of the Sun and are nearing the end of their lives when they are likely to collapse and form black holes. Wolf-Rayet stars burn hotter than when they were young, creating strong winds that blow large amounts of gas into space. This particular pair of Wolf-Rayet stars may have lost more than half of their original mass through this process.

MIRI was developed as part of his 50:50 partnership between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California led the NASA effort, and a multinational consortium of European astronomy agencies contributed to ESA.

Turning gas into dust is like turning flour into bread. Certain conditions and materials are required.

Hydrogen, the most common element in stars, cannot form dust itself. But Wolf-Rayet stars have lost so much mass that they also eject more complex elements, such as carbon, which are normally deep within the star. The heavy elements contained in the wind are cooled as they travel into space and are compressed where the winds from both stars meet, like two hands kneading dough.

Several other Wolf-Rayet systems form dust, but none like Wolf-Rayet 140 are known to produce rings. The unique ring pattern is formed because the orbit of the Wolf-Rayet star of WR 140 is elliptical rather than circular. Only when the stars are close together, the distance between the Earth and the Sun is about the same, and their winds collide, is the gas under enough pressure to form dust. In circular orbits, Wolf-Rayet binaries can continuously produce dust. Lau and his co-authors believe that the WR 140’s winds also cleared the surrounding area of ​​residual material that could otherwise impinge. There could be more rings that are so faint and scattered that even the web can’t see them in the data. Wolf-Rayet stars may look exotic compared to our Sun, but they may have played a role in the formation of stars and planets. When a Wolf-Rayet star clears an area, the ejected material collects at the edges and becomes dense enough for new stars to form. There is evidence that the Sun formed in such a scenario.

Using data from MIRI’s medium-resolution spectroscopy mode, a new study provides the best evidence to date that Wolf-Rayet stars produce carbon-rich dust molecules. Furthermore, the preservation of dust shells suggests that this dust can survive hostile interstellar environments and provide materials for future stars and planets. The problem is that while astronomers estimate there should be at least a few thousand Wolf-Rayet stars in our galaxy, only about 600 have been discovered so far. “Wolf-Rayet stars are rare in our galaxy, but because of their short stellar lifetimes, they may have produced a lot of dust throughout the galaxy’s history before they exploded or became black holes,” says Patrick. I was. Morris, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and co-author of the new study. I think we can learn a lot more about what drives new star formation in galaxies.”

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  • The Webb Space Telescope has discovered an unusual cosmic “fingerprint”
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