In a new picture from Webb, there are at least 17 dust rings made by a rare type of star and its partner, which are dancing in the sky.
A new picture from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows an amazing view of space. At least 17 mysterious dust rings can be seen coming out of a pair of stars. Together, they are called Wolf-Rayet 140, and they are about 5,000 light-years from Earth.
Each ring was made when the stellar winds (streams of gas that stars blow out into space) of the two stars collided as they got closer to each other. This pushed the gas together and made dust.
The orbits of the stars bring them together about every eight years. The dust loops show how much time has passed, just like the rings on a tree trunk. Ryan Lau said, “This system could make dust for more than a hundred years.”
“The image also illustrates just how sensitive this telescope is. Before, we were only able to see two dust rings, using ground-based telescopes. Now we see at least 17 of them.” Lau is an astronomer at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab and the lead author of a new study about the system that was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on October 12.
In addition to Webb’s overall sensitivity, its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is the only one that can study the dust rings, which Lau and his colleagues call shells because they are thicker and wider than they look in the image.
The science instruments on Webb can pick up infrared light, which is a range of wavelengths that humans can’t see. MIRI can see the longest infrared wavelengths, so it can often see cooler objects, like the dust rings, better than Webb’s other instruments.
The spectrometer on MIRI also showed what the dust was made of. Most of it was made of material thrown off by a type of star called a Wolf-Rayet star.
These cosmic “tree rings” tell a story written by the stars.
Every 8 years, these 2 stars are brought together by their orbits, creating streams of gas that can then form a new ring of dust. Webb reveals 15 of the 17 rings here for the first time: https://t.co/k93phPNoec pic.twitter.com/7JHvpsd1A2
— NASA Hallo-Webb Telescope 🕸🕷🎃 (@NASAWebb) October 12, 2022
Every time their orbits bring them together, the two stars in Wolf-Rayet 140 make dust rings or shells. This video shows a visualization of their orbits that helps explain how their interaction makes the pattern that looks like a fingerprint that NASA’s Webb space telescope saw. ESA, NASA, CSA, STScI and JPL-Caltech are responsible.
NASA and ESA worked together to make MIRI and each paid half of the costs (European Space Agency). NASA was led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, and ESA was helped by a group of astronomical institutes from all over Europe.
A Wolf-Rayet star is an O-type star that was born with at least 25 times more mass than our Sun and is nearing the end of its life when it will probably collapse and form a black hole. A Wolf-Rayet star burns hotter than it did when it was young.
It makes strong winds that push huge amounts of gas out into space. This process may have caused the Wolf-Rayet star in this pair to lose more than half of its mass.
Getting Dust in the Wind
Changing gas into dust is a lot like making bread from flour. You need the right conditions and ingredients. Hydrogen, which is found most often in stars, can’t make dust on its own. But because Wolf-Rayet stars lose so much mass, they also throw off elements like carbon that are usually found deep in a star.
The heavy parts of the wind cool as they move into space, and where the winds from both stars meet, they get pushed together, like when two people knead the dough. Wolf-Rayet systems in other galaxies also make dust, but none of them are known to make rings as Wolf-Rayet 140 does.
The Wolf-Rayet star in WR 140 has an elongated orbit, not a circular one, which makes the unique ring pattern. When the winds of two stars meet, they put enough pressure on the gas to make dust. This happens when two stars are about the same distance apart as Earth and the Sun. Wolf-Rayet binaries can keep making dust because their orbits are circular.
Lau and his co-authors think that WR 140’s winds also cleared the area around it of any leftover material that the rings might have run into. This may explain why the rings are so clean and not smeared or spread out. There are probably even more rings that are so dim and spread out that not even Webb can find them in the data.
Compared to our Sun, Wolf-Rayet stars may seem strange, but they may have helped form other stars and planets. When a Wolf-Rayet star cleans up an area, the stuff it sweeps up can pile up on the edges and get dense enough to make new stars. There are some signs that the Sun formed in this way.
The new study uses data from MIRI’s Medium Resolution Spectroscopy mode to show that carbon-rich dust molecules are made by Wolf-Rayet stars. Also, the fact that the dust shells are still there shows that this dust can survive in the harsh environment between stars and can be used to make new stars and planets.
‘WE SEE IT, WE LIKE IT, WE WANT IT’ 💍⭐
LOOK: The James Webb Space Telescope reveals 15 of the 17 rings seen from the cosmic tree rings for the first time, which emanate from a pair of stars. | 📷: NASA/Instagram pic.twitter.com/vNpzTY4b6F
— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) October 13, 2022
The problem is that only about 600 Wolf-Rayet stars have been found so far, even though astronomers think there should be at least a few thousand of them in our galaxy.
“Even though Wolf-Rayet stars are rare in our galaxy because they are short-lived as far as stars go, it’s possible they’ve been producing lots of dust throughout the history of the galaxy before they explode and/or form black holes,” said Patrick Morris, an astrophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California, and a co-author of the new study. “I think with NASA’s new space telescope we’re going to learn a lot more about how these stars shape the material between stars and trigger new star formation in galaxies.”
More Regarding the Mission
The James Webb Space Telescope is the best place on Earth to study space. It will solve astronomical mysteries in our solar system, look for planets far away that orbit other stars, and try to figure out how and why our universe is the way it is. JWST is an international project led by NASA with ESA and CSA as partners (Canadian Space Agency).
The U.S. science team is led by George Rieke of the University of Arizona. The UK Astronomy Technology Centre’s Gillian Wright is in charge of the MIRI European project. Alistair Glasse at UK ATC is in charge of MIRI’s instruments, and Michael Ressler at JPL is in charge of the project in the U.S.
The European Consortium is run by Laszlo Tamas of UK ATC. The MIRI cryocooler was made with help from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. JPL was in charge of the project and managed it. JPL is run by Caltech for NASA.
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