The NGC 3132 nebula (more colloquially known as the Southern Ring Nebula) was photographed in great detail back in July by the James Webb Space Telescope. The new photo was part of the telescope’s first full-color images of the Universe, which astronomers have been waiting for a long time.
Despite its undeniable beauty, the Southern Ring Nebula represents the outcome of a star’s death that occurred five hundred years before the birth of Christ. Thanks to new data obtained by the same James Webb telescope and other space observatories, it turns out that the Southern Ring Nebula formed in a messier way than scientists initially thought, according to Universe Today.
The nebula’s white dwarf is not alone
The Southern Ring Nebula left behind a white dwarf surrounded by gas and dust, but it turns out that there’s something more dwelling there, thanks to the new findings. The white dwarf is accompanied by a low-mass cosmic companion that revolves around it at about the same distance as Pluto does around our Sun.
Astronomers still aren’t able to see the secondary object directly, but the swirls of the gas and dust layers indicate its presence. Scientists can now conclude that the former red giant star that has once been in the place of the Southern Ring Nebula has also been through periods of more active ejecta.
A quote from the study in question says:
A structured, extended hydrogen halo surrounding an ionized central bubble is imprinted with spiral structures, probably shaped by a low-mass companion orbiting the central star at about 40–60au. The images also reveal a mid-infrared excess at the central star, interpreted as a dusty disk, which is indicative of an interaction with another closer companion.
The new study was published in Nature Astronomy.