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Feast Your Eyes On This JWST Photo Of A Star About To Go “Supernova"

The JWST photographed a star for the first time — the star, called WR 124, is 15,000 light-years away in the Sagitta constellation, and it has astronomers really excited.

The luminous, hot star Wolf-Rayet 124 (WR 124) is prominent at the center of the James Webb Space Te...
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

There have been some incredible first-time sights captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) since it launched into space in 2021. The latest released image shows “unprecedented detail” of a Wolf-Rayet star “going supernova.”

According to NASA, the latest image shows a Wolf-Rayet star, which is “among the most luminous, most massive, and most briefly detectable stars known.” The JWST first photographed this star — called WR 124, about 15,000 light-years away in the Sagitta constellation — in June 2022. It’s an image that has astronomers really excited.

Can you explain what’s happening in this photo like I’m 5?

To understand what you’re looking at, first you need to know what a Wolf-Rayet star is and why it’s really cool NASA captured this one.

As NASA explains, not only is the Wolf-Rayet star massive and luminous, but it represents a brief moment in the lifecycle of a star that only some stars undergo before “going supernova.”

“Wolf-Rayet stars are in the process of casting off their outer layers, resulting in their characteristic halos of gas and dust,” NASA shares. “The star WR 124 is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has shed 10 Suns’ worth of material – so far. As the ejected gas moves away from the star and cools, cosmic dust forms and glows in the infrared light detectable by Webb.”

JWST has captured this star while in this rare phase, which provides detailed and valuable observations to astronomers who are interested in understanding more about how planets — like Earth — are formed, which starts with the “cosmic dust” left after a supernova.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

“Dust is integral to the workings of the universe: It shelters forming stars, gathers together to help form planets, and serves as a platform for molecules to form and clump together – including the building blocks of life on Earth,” NASA explains.

“Despite the many essential roles that dust plays, there is still more dust in the universe than astronomers’ current dust-formation theories can explain,” the agency continues. And these new images mean there’s more potential for dust studies to continue, which would not have been possible without the instruments on the JWST.

“Before Webb, dust-loving astronomers simply did not have enough detailed information to explore questions of dust production in environments like WR 124,” NASA explains. “Now those questions can be investigated with real data.”

How cool!?

To learn more about this new image, visit NASA.