Photo | NASA Webb telescope captures Wolf-Rayet stars on cusp of death

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NASA’s James Webb telescope has captured the stunning image of a super bright, massive Wolf-Rayet star. According to the US space agency, the Wolf-Rayet phase is a fleeting stage that only some stars go through, soon before they explode.

The observation was among the first made by Webb following its launch in late 2021. Its infrared eyes observed all the gas and dust flung into space by a huge, hot star 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. A light-year is about 5.8 trillion miles.

Massive stars race through their lifecycles, and only some of them go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova. Webb’s capturing this stunning image is a piece of big news for astronomers.

“We’ve never seen it like that before. It’s really exciting,” said Macarena Garcia Marin, a European Space Agency scientist who is part of the project.

Wolf-Rayet star

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Wolf-Rayet star

Stars like WR 124 also serve as an analog to help astronomers understand a crucial period in the early history of the universe. Similar dying stars first seeded the young universe with heavy elements forged in their cores – elements that are now common in the current era, including on Earth.

“Wolf-Rayet stars are in the process of casting off their outer layers, resulting in their characteristic halos of gas and dust. 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,” NASA said in a statement.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb looks beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probes the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.

Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

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