UNITED STATES: This year, the James Webb Space Telescope debuted one of its most spectacular images of the Southern Ring Nebula: a beautiful veil of gas and dust lighted by a dying star at its center.
Researchers have discovered evidence of at least two previously undiscovered stars hidden in the stellar cemetery after analysing the data from the past’s most powerful observatory.
It was previously believed that the Southern Ring Nebula, located in the Milky Way around 2,000 light years from Earth, had two stars.
One of them is a white dwarf star that is nestled in the center of the nebula and has been ejecting streams of gas and dust into space for thousands of years, forming the cloud around it in the process.
The less noticeable of the two stars in the Webb photos that were released in July is the extremely hot white dwarf that has lost all of its brilliance.
Astronomers now got a glimpse into how our own Sun might perish in the course of billions of years.
According to Philippe Amram, an astronomer at France’s Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory, the “atypical” structure of the nebula cannot be explained by this binary system, which is widespread throughout the Milky Way.
Amram is one of the co-authors of a study that used Webb’s observations to unlock more of the nebula’s mysteries and was published on Thursday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Astronomers have questioned why the nebula has “such a weird shape, not actually spherical” since it was first identified by English astronomer John Herschel in 1835, according to Amram.
The researchers said they found evidence of at least two additional stars inside the nebula by analyzing the data from Webb’s infrared sensors. The nebula has a diameter that is equivalent to 1,500 times the distance from the Sun to Pluto.
They are close enough to interact, and Amram claimed that their “energy exchanges” give the nebula its peculiar structure.
Since the Webb telescope has been operating since July, a flood of hitherto unheard-of data has already been released. Scientists are optimistic that it will usher in a new era of discovery.