NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has provided a new perspective on the Southern Ring Nebula. Webb has revealed the second, dusty star in the nebula’s center in far more detail by observing the object in the mid-infrared.
The star constantly ejects layers of gas and dust while it revolves close to its companion. Together, the swirling pair has produced a magnificent shell scene. Webb’s view of near-infrared light focuses on “spotlights” from the stars as light passes through openings in the dusty ejections of the nebula.
The greatest is saved for last by certain stars.
For the first time, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has shown that the fainter star at the center of this image is shrouded in dust. This star has been ejecting rings of gas and dust in all directions for millions of years.
The Southern Ring Nebula, also known as NGC 3132, is a planetary nebula recently photographed by two cameras aboard Webb space telescope. It is around 2,500 light-years away.
Astronomers can delve into many more details about planetary nebulae such as this one, which are clouds of gas and dust released by dead stars, thanks to Webb. Scientists will enhance their knowledge of these objects by learning which chemicals are there and where they are distributed within the shells of gas and dust.
The Southern Ring Nebula appears virtually face-on in this observation, but if it could be rotated to be seen edge-on, its three-dimensional shape would be more clearly seen as two bowls joined at the bottom, spreading apart with a sizable hole in the middle.
Two stars that are tightly orbiting each other shape the surroundings. New information about this intricate system is revealed in Webb’s infrared photos.
While the image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the right reveals for the first time that the second star is encircled by dust, the image from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on the left is more prominently focused on the stars and their layers of light.
Due to the brighter star’s earlier stage of stellar evolution, it will likely expel its planetary nebula.
Meanwhile, the brighter star influences the nebula’s appearance. The pair “stir the pot” of gas and dust as they continue to orbit one another, producing uneven patterns.
Each shell reflects a time when the mass of the fainter star was lost. The largest gas shells that were ejected sooner were those that were toward the edges of the image. The most recent are those that are closest to the star. It is possible to trace these ejections and examine the system’s past.
According to observations made with NIRCam, incredibly thin light rays surround the planetary nebula. Where there are openings in the gas and dust, starlight from the center stars radiates out, much like sunshine passing through openings in a cloud.
Observing a planetary nebula is similar to viewing a movie in extremely slow motion because they last for tens of thousands of years. Scientists can precisely estimate the amount of gas and dust contained within each shell the star ejected.
Even as the star continues to discharge material, dust and molecules begin to develop inside the shells of material and alter the surrounding environment. The interstellar medium will soon be expanded into by this dust, gradually enriching the region around it.
The dust may drift through space for billions of years and combine with a new star or planet because of its long lifespan.
These thin layers of gas and dust will vanish into the surrounding space after thousands of years.
The best space scientific observatory in the world is the James Webb Space Telescope. In addition to looking beyond our solar system to distant planets orbiting other stars, Webb will delve into the enigmatic architecture and origins of the cosmos and human’s role within it. NASA runs a multinational project called Webb with the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency.
NASA Headquarters manages the mission on behalf of the Science Mission Directorate. Webb is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which also coordinates work on the mission by Northrop Grumman, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and other mission partners.
Along with Goddard, other NASA facilities such as the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and others also contributed to the project.
A team from the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center created NIRCam.
A consortium of publicly financed European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium), in collaboration with JPL and the University of Arizona, planned and built MIRI with funding from ESA and NASA.