Space exploration takes all of us here at Digital Camera World back to our childhood of pouring over beautiful images of planets and galaxies in astronomy books. We of course get very excited every time a new image is released from Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope.
A lot of incredible images have been coming from the Webb Telescope recently. Just a week ago we got a new view of Saturn’s moon Titan and its cloudy atmosphere, the most distant starlight ever seen, or stunning images of the sparkling dwarf galaxy just outside the Milky Way.
These new photos from NASA show off never before seen stars that together craft the shape of the Southern Ring Nebula. Nasa worked together with the European Space Agency’s Gaia Observatory to put together the data collected by the ESA combining it with the brand new infrared images coming from the James Webb Telescope, to create these stunning images.
The team used this data to calculate the original mass of the star before it ejected the layers of gas and dust that can be seen in these images, with the star now having a mass 60% less than before this expulsion, this helps the scientists wind back the clock and figure out how this nebula was first created.
Orsola De Marco from Macquarie University in Sydney who worked on the project to analyze the data said “With Webb, it’s like we were handed a microscope to examine the universe. There is so much detail in its images. We approached our analysis much like forensic scientists to rebuild the scene.”
Using the Webb Telescope’s near and mid-infrared wavelengths, scientists were able to determine different phenomena around the nebula. The compiled images clearly show that the two central stars are surrounded by very hot gas, the second image shows in more detail the dust and other molecular outflows that have been thrown out further into the cosmos. The ‘spokes’ that can be seen are light from the central stars breaking through holes in the dust.
Before the stars shed their layers, the scientists are proposing that the stars interacted with other companion stars, formed an intergalactic dance that formed the shape of the nebula, with up to five stars working in unison to form the complex curves and bumps that can make up the Southern Ring Nebula. Joel Kastner, from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and another researcher working on the project, said, “We think all that gas and dust we see thrown all over the place must have come from that one star, but it was tossed in very specific directions by the companion stars.”
This might have been shaped further by companion stars releasing ‘jets’ that create opposing bumps in the nebula. “This is much more hypothetical, but if two companions were interacting with the dying star, they would launch toppling jets that could explain these opposing bumps,” De Marco explained.
If you want to see more Webb image releases, head to the James Webb Space Telescope gallery, where you can see all of Webb's first images and learn more about what they depict.