Details of a Dying Star (So, what is in it?)

(Captured by the James Webb Telescope)

Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Barlow (University College London),
N. Cox (ACRI-ST), R. Wesson (Cardiff University)

The James Webb Space Telescope recently captured stunning photos of the Ring Nebula. It features inner shades of blue and green, a detailed ring transitioning from orange to pink, and distinct filament elements in its inner region.

Imagine this: A star nearing retirement dramatically sheds its outer layers to create the Ring Nebula, like a star’s version of a midlife crisis with vibrant colours. Webb’s Infrared Camera captured this sight, revealing the inner ring’s intricate structure and about 20,000 globules filled with hydrogen gas.

Within the Ring Nebula’s main shell, there’s a slim ring composed of carbon-based molecules known as “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” (PAHs for short). Also, there’s scorching hot gas in the inner region.

Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Barlow (University College London), N. Cox (ACRI-ST), R. Wesson (Cardiff University)

Before, people thought Planetary Nebulae were simple spherical blobs housing a single dying star, even naming them after planets due to their appearance through small telescopes. However, the photo that we got from the James Webb Telescope has transformed our understanding of astrophotography.

The Ring Nebula

The Ring Nebula is a prime opportunity to study planetary nebulae, located 2,200 light-years away and visible with good binoculars. The ESSENcE team used Webb’s instruments to explore it and were amazed to find that the bright ring consists of 20,000 clumps of molecular hydrogen gas, each roughly the size of Earth.

The “spikes” extending from the central star likely originate from molecules hiding in the shadowy corners of the ring. Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) provided the clearest view of the faint molecular halo surrounding the bright ring, which forms in concentric features, like tree rings, every 280 years.

Surprisingly, there might be a companion star at a distance from the central star, similar to Pluto’s distance from our Sun, possibly shaping this space donut into a collaborative masterpiece.

In summary, the Ring Nebula is a stunning discovery by the James Webb Telescope, revealing a complex and colourful celestial wonder with intriguing features. The telescope continues to amaze us with new discoveries each week on its journey through the universe.

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