- The James Webb Space Telescope captured the rare sight of a ‘fingerprint’ in space.
- The “fingerprint” in the image consists of 17 concentric circles radiating from a point of contact.
- The rings form when two stars pass each other once every eight years.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has spotted an amazing new sight – a cosmic imprint radiating from a point of contact between two distant stars.
An image released by NASA on Tuesday showed what appear to be concentric rings radiating from a point of contact between a pair of giant stars called Wolf-Rayet 140, located about 5,000 light-years from Earth. This pair consists of a Wolf-Rayet star ten times the size of the sun and a companion supergiant star that is 30 times the size of the sun.
According to NASA’s description of the photo, the rings are produced whenever the two stars approach each other in their orbits, which happens once every eight years. Stellar winds – or gaseous streams – from stars are compressed and turned into dust, creating rings.
NASA has described the interaction between two stars and the wavy rings emanating from their point of near-contact as a “celestial dance.” The agency added that the rings seen in this image are similar to circles on a tree trunk, with each loop marking another eight-year cycle.
“We’re looking at over a century of dust production from this system,” said astronomer Ryan Lau, lead author of a study on the Wolf-Rayet 140 star system. “The image also shows how sensitive this telescope is. Before, we could see only two rings of dust, using ground-based telescopes. Now we see at least 17 of them.”
Peter Tuthill, a professor of astronomy at the University of Sydney and co-author of the study, told the Guardian that the image shows how Wolf-Rayet 140 “puffs up” a smoke ring every eight years, “like clockwork”.
“Eight years later, as the binary returns to its orbit, another ring appears, the same as the previous one, blasting into space inside the previous one’s bubble, like a set of giant nesting Russian dolls,” Tuthill said.
The James Webb Telescope is beaming back photo after photo of never-before-seen space footage, including images of a 13.5-billion-year-old galaxy, the oldest part of space humans have ever seen. The James Webb Telescope is currently orbiting the sun, about a million miles from Earth, with the goal of observing light in distant galaxies.
In September, the telescope captured images of the Orion Nebula, a star about 1,350 light-years from Earth. The telescope’s infrared cameras were able to spot star-forming clouds and cocoons of gas that were not picked up by the Hubble telescope.
Also in September, the telescope captured a clear image of Neptune’s rings, providing humanity’s best view of the planet since the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune in 1989.