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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Out with a Bang: Dying Star Spews Stardust into Space

The James Webb Telescope captures the dying moments of a star as it spews dust into space

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Aditya Saikrishna
Aditya Saikrishna
I am 21 years old and an avid Motorsports enthusiast.

UNITED STATES: The James Webb Telescope captured a rare cosmic phenomenon as it took images of intense light from a star ejecting numerous stardust clouds into space. The stardust was produced by a Wolf-Rayet star spewing its insides before it explodes.

Radiation pressure is the propulsive effect of starlight. It is one of the reasons why stars do not collapse under their own gravity. It also creates the bright tails of comets as they pass close to stars. The new image shows the phenomenon taking place around the star in great detail.

The image was released by scientist Judy Schmidt in July and it shows binary stars in WR140. Every eight years, the stars produce a ring of stardust as they pass each other in orbit. WR140 is located 5,600 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation.

The pair of stars is enclosed by concentric ripples, which resemble the layers of an onion. Even though the reason for the ripples shown in the image was the centre of speculation online, a team of researchers came up with the answers in a paper called Nature, published on October 12th.

The ripples are massive plumes of glowing stardust and soot ejected out as the pair of old and leaky stars swing closely past each other in an elliptical orbit with an orbital period of eight years.

The high-speed solar winds of the stars collide as they approach each other, resulting in a plume of solar material which is arced across space and slowly expands to form rings. The spacing of the rings is determined by the orbital period, as the plumes are ejected only when the stars are in proximity.

The cloud has 20 visible rings and, with the orbital period of the binary pair of stars being 8, the age of the outermost ripple amounted to 160 years of stardust.

Interestingly, the ripples are not expanding outwards at a constant speed. Instead, they are pushed outwards periodically by the starlight. This acceleration causes changes in the spacing of the gaps between the rings.

One of the stars is a Wolf-Rayet star, which is a rare and slowly-dying star that has lost its outer layer of hydrogen, as a result of which it spews gusts of ionised helium, carbon, and nitrogen from its insides.

The insides of these stars are stretched by the radiation pressure created by the light until they explode as supernovas eventually.

The ejected carbon is transformed into soot but still remains hot enough to glow brightly in the infrared spectrum.

The other star is an O-type supergiant, which is one of the most massive classes of stars. These stars reach their end in a supernova as well.

Also Read: NASA’s DART Crashes Successfully with Asteroid Dimorphos



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