NASA’s Web Space Telescope has captured a rare and brief phase of a star in Sagittarius just before it dies and goes supernova.
The image, released Tuesday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, shows the Wolf-Rayet star in unprecedented detail, casting a shimmering purple halo as it ejects gas. As the gas moves away from the star, it cools and forms cosmic dust and glows in infrared light that can be detected by the web, according to NASA.
“Massive stars race through their life cycles, and only a few of them go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova, making detailed observations of this rare phase of Webb valuable to astronomers,” the space agency said in a statement.
The film is being celebrated for its ability to shed more light on the origins of constellations, planets and the universe as a whole.
According to CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood, “images like these show the final moments of a star, which is really important in terms of the star’s evolution and how the elements that make life possible, for example, actually form”. “(Webb’s) ability to see things like these Wolf-Rayet stars in unprecedented detail promises really great things for the future. I think it’s going to blow our minds.”
Additionally, NASA said they hope to learn more about the origin of cosmic dust that may have survived supernova explosions.
“Despite the many important roles that dust plays, there is still more dust in the universe than astronomers’ current dust-formation theories can explain,” the space agency said. “The universe is operating with a dust budget surplus.”
According to NASA, one of the first observations made by the Webb Telescope in June 2022 was of a dying star.
According to the space agency, the star, 15,000 light-years away, is 30 times more massive than our Sun and has already shed enough material for 10 Suns.