New images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) show at least 17 rings of dust that resemble fingerprints created by a rare type of star and its companion.
The cosmic binary star more than 5,000 light-years from Earth is collectively known as Wolf-Rayet 140 (WR 140).
Each ring is formed when two stars come close, and the gas streams they blow into space collide, compressing the gas and forming dust.
The orbits of the stars gather them about every eight years, and the dust ring marks the passage of time.
Ryan Lau, an astronomer at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, said: “We’re studying the dust that has been produced by this system for more than a century.
“This image also illustrates how sensitive the JWST is. Previously, we could only see two dust rings using ground-based telescopes. Now we’re seeing at least 17 of them.”
Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is uniquely qualified to study the dust rings that researchers call seashells because it can be seen in the infrared range that is invisible to the human eye.
The UK Astronomical Technology Centre (UK ATC) helped design and build MIRI’s spectrometer, which has been used to reveal the composition of dust, mainly formed by material ejected from special types of stars called Wolf-Rayet stars.
Such stars are born with at least 25 times the mass of Earth’s sun and are nearing the end of their lives.
Wolf-Rayet stars burn hotter than they did when they were young, producing powerful winds that push huge amounts of gas into space.
Experts suggest that the Wolf-Rayet star in the pair may have lost more than half of its original mass through the process.
While some other Wolf-Rayet systems form dust, none are known to make rings like Wolf-Rayet 140, they said.
They say the distinctive ring pattern is due to the elongated, rather than circular, orbits of the stars in WR 140.
Only when the stars are close together, about the same distance from Earth to the sun, and their winds collide, will the gas be under enough pressure to form dust.
Astronomers think WR 140’s winds also blew leftover material from the surrounding area, which could explain why the rings are so pristine.
Dr Olivia Jones, a Webb researcher at ATC in Edinburgh UK and co-author of the study, said: “Not only is this a spectacular image, but this rare phenomenon has revealed new evidence about cosmic dust and how it Survive in harsh environments.Space environment.
“These discoveries are only now opening up to us through the power of Webb and MIRI.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
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