Webb Telescope Reveals Luminous Stellar Crime Scene

Webb Telescope Reveals Luminous Stellar Crime Scene

Two images of the Southern Ring Nebula taken by the Webb Telescope.

2,500 years ago, one of the most beautiful features in space was born: the Southern Ring Nebula. The Webb Space Telescope vividly captured the nebula earlier this year, and astronomers now believe they know exactly how the violent explosion of a star occurred, leaving the elegant nebula in its wake.

The star carrying the nebula was about three times the size of the Sun and 500 million years old. That’s pretty young, in stellar terms; our Sun is about 4.6 billion years old and he should live another 5 billion.

About 2,500 years ago, Confucius and Buddha were still alive. The Peloponnesian Wars were about to begin. And somewhere in those intervening years, a star 2,000 light-years away expired, spewing gas outwards as a newly formed white dwarf.

The star in the Southern Ring Nebula isn’t dead, not yet, but its ejection of gas is a major turning point in the star’s lifespan. White dwarfs are the end of the stellar game; they form when stars have exhausted their nuclear energy and begin their slow cooling.

Thanks to images from the Webb Space Telescope and intelligent calculations and mathematical modelling by the research teammoments before the Southern Ring Nebula starlight show can now be examined in detail.

The different Webb filters highlight several aspects of a light source, that’s why some parts of the nebula may look like pearls or a translucent red while others appear blue or orange, depending on the image The Webb image processors decide Highlight different aspects of objects in order to display various elements: hot gas, for exampleor star factories within larger systems.

A team of 70 astronomers worked together to determine that up to five stars (only two of which are now visible) could have been involved in the stellar demise. His research on the death of the star is published today in Nature Astronomy.

A representative color image of the Southern Ring Nebula.

“We were surprised to find evidence of two or three companion stars that likely accelerated their death, as well as one more ‘innocent bystander’ star that got caught up in the interaction,” said Macquarie University astronomer Orsola De Marco. and the study. lead author, at a university liberation.

The team’s play-by-play of the nebula’s origins was made possible by very precise measurements of the brightest star (the star among stars, if you will) in the Webb i.magician Webb’s data allowed the researchers to accurately measure its mass and how close it is in its own lifetimewhich in turn allowed them to derive the mass of the faint central star before its material is shed and creates the colorful nebula

Webb photographed the southern ring with two instruments, NIRcam and MIRI. Webb’s images were supplemented with data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the San Pedro de Mártir Telescope, and NASA’s Gaia and Hubble space telescopes.

Only two of the the stars were thought to be involved in this cosmic rage are visible a Webb‘s representative color snapshot of the nebula, dam with NIRcam. The bright star at the center of the nebula is associated with the one that ejected so much material that it became a white dwarf. This aged (and depleted) star sits faintly along the 8 o’clock diffraction peak of the central bright. star in the image above.

Astronomers believe that at least one star interacted with the fainter star (Star 1 in the illustrated timeline below) as it inflated, preparing to expel its gas and become a white dwarf.

According to the team, this mysterious star (Star 3) spewed jets of material as it interacted with the dying star and cloaked the faint star in dust before merging with the dwarf. Star 2 in the illustration is the bright spot in the center of the nebula now, a relatively unremarkable character given its lack of explosive activity or gas emissions.

Six panels showing the relative proximity of the stars and how they interact, giving rise to the nebula.

Another star (or ‘partifier’, in the Analogy from the Space Telescope Science Institute from an astrophysics party gone awry) fired off the gas and dust released by its predecessor, causing wavy ripples in the material. Then another star (Star 5 in the panels above) surrounded the light show and produced the ring system surrounding the nebula.

According to the researchers’ calculations, you can consider the white dwarf near the nebula’s core to be the host of the party who got too discouraged and passed out long before the end of the party. But the star showed everyone that she had a great time, and it’s thanks to this that the party lived.

“We think all the gas and dust we see thrown around must have come from that star, but it was thrown in very specific directions by the companion stars,” said Joel Kastner, an astrophysicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology. in a StScI liberation.

The researchers believe that the same methods that uncovered details about the birth of the Southern Ring Nebula could help unpack the births of other nebulae, as well as the astrophysical forces at work in the interactions of stars.

The imagery that unveiled this interstellar scene was released in June; only now have researchers had time to sift through the data and present their interpretation.

So please consider the images you have seen from Webb like this far—they all have their stories, which (we hope) will soon be told in detail.

More: Are colors in Webb telescope images ‘fake’?

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