CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – The Webb Space Telescope captured a rare and fleeting phase of a star on the brink of death.
NASA released the image Tuesday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.
It was one of the first observations made by the Webb after its launch in late 2021. Its infrared eyes observed all the gas and dust being ejected into space by a huge, hot star 15,000 light-years away. A light year is about 5.8 trillion miles.
Glowing purple like a cherry blossom, the discarded material was once the star’s outer layer. The Hubble Space Telescope took a picture of the same transiting star a few decades ago, but it looked more like a fireball without fine detail.
According to scientists, this transformation only happens to some stars and is usually the last step before they explode and become a supernova.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s really exciting,” said Macarena García Marin, a European Space Agency scientist involved in the project.
Officially known as WR 124, this star in the constellation Sagittarius is 30 times more massive than our Sun and has already ejected enough material to account for 10 suns, according to NASA.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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