NASA has share a picture of the James Webb Space Telescope it could one day help astronomers answer long-standing questions about our universe. The capture you see above shows WR 124, a star located in the constellation Sagittarius, about 15,000 light-years from Earth. When the JWST first sighted WR 124 in June 2022, it captured the star undergoing a Wolf-Rayet phase. According to NASA, only certain massive stars go through such a transition before exploding. Those that do are among the largest and brightest celestial bodies in the night sky. In the case of WR 124, NASA estimates that the star is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has so far lost about 10 Suns of material. Over time, the gas expelled by the Wolf-Rayet stars will cool and form cosmic dust.
There is beauty in the ephemeral. 🌸
Webb’s stunning image of a massive, super-bright Wolf-Rayet star evokes the fleeting nature of cherry blossoms. The Wolf-Rayet phase is a fleeting stage that only a few stars go through, shortly before exploding: https://t.co/ZOAmKgtshI pic.twitter.com/fC0tL24iUe
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) March 14, 2023
Cosmic dust is something astronomers want to study for several reasons. Material is an essential building block of the universe. As NASA notes, it is home to molten stars and can even come together to form planets. At the moment, however, no theory explains the amount of cosmic dust present in the universe. The JWST could help astronomers solve this mystery. “Before Webb, dust-loving astronomers simply did not have enough detailed information to explore questions of dust production in environments like WR 124, and whether dust grains were large and abundant enough to survive the supernova and become a significant contributor to the global dust budget,” NASA said. “Now these questions can be investigated with real data.”