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The Webb Space Telescope photographed the Southern Ring Nebula: the last show of an exploding star

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has revealed details about the Southern Ring Nebula that were previously hidden from astronomers. * For the first time it is possible to clearly distinguish the second star in the binary system, one of whose members has exploded * First article in the series

The Southern Ring Nebula as photographed by two different instruments of the Webb Space Telescope - in the near-infrared on the left, and in the mid-infrared on the right. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScIn
The Southern Ring Nebula as photographed by two different instruments of the Webb Space Telescope - in near-infrared on the left, and in mid-infrared on the right. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScIn The Southern Ring Nebula as imaged by two different instruments of the Webb Space Telescope - in the near-infrared on the left, and in the mid-infrared on the right. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScIn

Some stars save the best for last.

The dimmer star at the center of the nebula has been sending out rings of gas and dust in all directions for thousands of years, and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has revealed for the first time that this star is hidden by dust.

Two cameras mounted on the Webb Space Telescope captured the latest image of this planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132, and informally known as the Southern Ring Nebula. The nebula is part of the Milky Way and is about 2,500 light years away from us.

The Web will allow astronomers to access many more details about planetary nebulae like this one - clouds of gas and dust blown up by dying stars. Understanding which molecules are in the nebula, and where they are in the shells of gas and dust will help researchers refine their knowledge of these objects.

This view by Webb shows the Southern Ring Nebula with its front facing us and, but if we could rotate it to see it end-to-end, its three-dimensional shape would clearly look like two bowls joined at the bottom and opening to create a large hole in the center.

Two stars, locked in a tight orbit between them, shape the local landscape in the nebula. Webb's infrared images include new details on this complex system. The stars - and their layers of light - stand out in the image from the near infrared camera Webb's (NIRCam) on the left, while the image from a device the mid-infrared (MIRI) of Webb on the right shows for the first time that the second star surrounded by dust. The brighter star is in an earlier stage of its stellar evolution and will likely eject its planetary nebula in the future.

Meanwhile, the brighter star affects the appearance of the nebula. As the pair of stars continue to orbit each other, they "stir the pot" of gas and dust, causing asymmetric patterns to form.

Each shell represents an episode in which the bright star lost some of its mass. The widest shells of gas toward the outer regions of the image were ejected earlier. The closest to the star are the last. Tracing these emissions allows researchers to examine the history of the system.

Observations taken with the NIRCam camera are also revealing Gentle rays of light most around the planetary nebula. Starlight from the central stars is projected out where there are holes in the gas and dust - like sunlight through gaps between the clouds.

Because planetary nebulae have existed for tens of thousands of years, viewing nebulae is like watching a movie in super slow motion. Each shell that the star inflates gives researchers the ability to precisely measure the gas and dust inside it.

This dust will eventually enrich the areas around it, and spread into the so-called the interstellar medium. And because it is very long-lived, the dust may eventually travel through space for billions of years, reaching star-forming regions and finding itself inside a new star or planet.

In thousands of years, these delicate layers of gas and dust will dissipate into the surrounding space.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

To the news On the NASA website

More of the topic in Hayadan:

The NASA broadcast showing the first five images of Webb, 12/11/2022

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