Social Navigation

Photo | NASA Webb telescope captures Wolf-Rayet stars on the brink of death


NASA’s James Webb Telescope has captured the stunning image of a super-bright, massive Wolf-Rayet star. According to the US Space Agency, the Wolf-Rayet phase is a volatile phase that only a few stars go through shortly before they explode.

The observation was one of Webb’s first after the launch in late 2021. His infrared eyes observed all the gas and dust flung into space from a huge, hot star 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. A light year is about 5.8 trillion miles.

Massive stars race through their life cycles, and only a few of them go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova. Webb’s capture of this stunning image is big news for astronomers.

“We have never seen it like this. It’s really exciting,” said Macarena Garcia Marin, a European Space Agency scientist who is part of the project.

Wolf-Rayet star

View full image

Wolf-Rayet star

Stars such as WR 124 also serve as an analogue to help astronomers understand a crucial period in the early history of the universe. Similar dying stars first seeded the young universe with heavy elements forged in their cores — elements now common in the current era, including on Earth.

Wolf-Rayet stars are in the process of shedding their outer layers, resulting in their characteristic halos of gas and dust. The star WR 124 is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has so far shed 10 suns worth of material As the ejected gas moves away from the star and cools, cosmic dust forms and glows in the infrared light detectable by Webb,” NASA said in a statement.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb continues to look at distant worlds around other stars, exploring the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.

Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.