James Webb Space Telescope captures a star going Supernova in unprecedented detail

Alfonso Maruccia

Posts: 403   +179
What just happened? Born out of an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the James Webb Space Telescope is mostly designed to provide detailed observations within the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The latest image captured by the telescope has just confirmed Webb's excellent capabilities for "infrared astronomy."

NASA released a new image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which depicts a star named "WR 124" that is located 15,000 light years away from Earth, in the Sagittarius constellation. WR 124 is a Wolf Rayet-type star, a rare kind of star which is among the most luminous, most massive, and most briefly detectable stars known, NASA explained.

WR 124 was actually one of the first observations made by JWST in June 2022, the space agency said, but the image has been unveiled just now. The Wolf-Rayet phase is a brief condition some stars go through during their lifetime before turning into supernovae, which makes Webb's observations a valuable asset to astronomers studying the life of stars.

WR 124 is 30 times the mass of our Sun, NASA said, and it has "shed" 10 Suns' worth of material so far. The ejected gas moves away from the central body and cools down, forming cosmic dust and glowing in the infrared light that is detectable by Webb's advanced instruments.

The U.S. space agency described Webb's observation process in detail: the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) balances the brightness of WR 124's stellar core and the details in the fainter surrounding gas; the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) reveals the clumpy structure of the gas and dust nebula of the ejected material surrounding the aforementioned core.

Before Webb, astronomers investigating cosmic dust simply had no way to capture detailed images and information about a dust-rich environment like the WR 124 nebula. And dust, NASA said, plays an essential role in the inner working of the universe as it shelters forming stars, and gathers together to help shape planets, molecules and even the building blocks of life on Earth.

Dust is a fundamental element for our universe, and yet scientists still have to explain why the universe seemingly contains more dust than our current dust-formation theories can justify. The universe is "operating with a dust budget surplus," NASA remarked.

Thanks to Webb's powerful instruments, the mystery of cosmic dust could finally be solved for good. Wolf-Rayet stars like WR 124 can also help astronomers understand some crucial aspects of the early history of the universe. Similar dying stars were responsible for "seeding" a young universe with heavy elements forged in their cores, those same elements which are now common on Earth and elsewhere in outer space.

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Posts: 8,745   +8,297
I think this goes without saying, but JWST is likely, assuming it does not get too much damage from micrometeorites, to capture the imaginations of scientists, and anyone else interested, with its discoveries for years to come.

And, thankfully, unlike ground based astronomy, there are no internet or other satellites to interfere with its skies. Still, I am looking forward to when this baby does live https://www.eso.org/sci/facilities/eelt/ in 2025.
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Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,714   +4,796
"which depicts a star named "WR 124" that is located 15,000 light years away from Earth"
So this supernova happened over 15,000 years ago.

"WR 124 is 30 times the mass of our Sun"
Which means that this star has been a black hole for over 15,000 years now.

Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,714   +4,796
Yeah, I had to look up that "Wolf-Rayet" phase definition. However, that makes the very title of the article false because we're not witnessing a star going supernova. The Wolf-Rayet phase can last about 100,000 years which means that even with the time difference, the star still hasn't started going supernova yet.

Therefore, the James Webb Space Telescope has not captured a star going supernova.


Posts: 2,752   +3,335
Staff member
Ah, I missed that part in the title! I wonder if a Superburp would be more appropriate...