NASA has shared an image from the James Webb Space Telescope that could one day help astronomers answer long-standing questions about our universe. The screenshot you see above shows WR 124, a star located in the constellation Sagittarius, approximately 15,000 light-years from Earth. When the JWST first sighted WR 124 in June 2022, it captured the star in a Wolf-Rayet phase. According to NASA, only some massive stars go through that transition before exploding. Those that do are among the largest and most luminous celestial bodies in the night sky. In the case of WR 124, NASA estimates that the star is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has so far spewed material equivalent to 10 suns. Over time, the gas ejected from Wolf-Rayet stars will cool and form cosmic dust.
There is beauty in transience. 🌸
Webb’s stunning image of a massive, super-bright Wolf-Rayet star evokes the ephemeral nature of cherry blossoms. The Wolf-Rayet phase is a fleeting stage that only a few stars pass through, shortly before exploding: https://t.co/ZOAmKgtshI pic.twitter.com/fC0tL24iUe
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) March 14, 2023
Cosmic dust is something that astronomers want to study for a number of reasons. Material is an essential building block of the universe. As NASA points out, it harbors coalescing stars and can even coalesce to form planets. At the moment, however, there is no theory that explains the amount of cosmic dust in the universe. The JWST could help astronomers tackle that mystery. “Before Webb, dust-loving astronomers simply did not have enough detailed information to explore the questions of dust production in environments like WR 124, and whether dust grains were large and abundant enough to survive the supernova and become in a significant contribution to overall dust”. budget,” NASA said. “Now those questions can be investigated with real data.”