The Wolf-Rayet star, WR 124, has been observed in unprecedented detail by the James Webb Space Telescope, providing new insights into cosmic dust and the heavy elements that make up the universe. Wolf-Rayet stars are rare and precede the final act of a massive star, the supernova, as Phys.org reveals. These stars are in the process of casting off their outer layers, resulting in a distinctive halo of gas and dust.
Cosmic dust is integral to the workings of the universe as it shelters forming stars, helps form planets, and provides a platform for molecules to form and clump together. The origin of cosmic dust that can evade a supernova explosion is of great interest to astronomers as there is more dust in the universe than current theories can explain. Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) allow astronomers to study cosmic dust in unprecedented detail, opening up new possibilities for investigating questions about dust production in environments like WR 124.
WR 124 (NIRCam and MIRI Compass Image)
captured by the James Webb Space Telescope pic.twitter.com/fBpRgieKcv
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Supernovae are relatively rare events in the universe, but they are not completely unique. They occur when a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses, releasing an enormous amount of energy in the form of light and other radiation. Estimates suggest that a supernova occurs in our galaxy about once every 50 years, and astronomers observe them in other galaxies at a rate of several per year.
Although not completely unique, supernovae play an important role in the evolution of the universe. They create and distribute heavy elements, such as iron and gold, into space, which can eventually form new stars and planets. Additionally, supernovae are important sources of cosmic rays and help to regulate the interstellar medium. Therefore, while they may not be the only way that stars die, they are still a significant and fascinating phenomenon in astronomy.
The WR 124 star is located 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and is 30 times the mass of the sun, having already shed 10 suns-worth of material.