Pair of stars create “fingerprint” in photo taken by James Webb Space Telescope
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Two intertwined stars are creating what looks like a “fingerprint” in space. NASA released a photo Wednesday taken of the duo by the James Webb Space Telescope, which shows at least 17 dust rings surrounding the stars.
The photos were taken with the help of the telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, which was created by NASA and the European Space Agency.
The stars, known collectively as Wolf-Rayet 140, are located 5,000 light years from Earth, NASA said in a news release. Each dust ring is formed as the two stars come close together during their orbit, causing gases emitting from both to compress and make the rings, NASA explained.
“Transforming gas into dust is somewhat like turning flour into bread: It requires specific conditions and ingredients,” NASA stated about the dust rings.
Each ring takes about eight years to form.
“We’re looking at over a century of dust production from this system,” astronomer Ryan Lau said.
NASA revealed that the pair is near the end of their life, which will cause them to collapse and form a black hole. Stars that are categorized as Wolf-Rayet have at least 25 times more mass than the sun, and pump out huge amounts of gas.
The duo may have shed more than half of their original mass over time, according to NASA.
Astronomers also believe the winds coming from the stars swept the surrounding area of any debris that could smear the rings, which is why they can be seen so clearly by the telescope.
“There are likely even more rings that have become so faint and dispersed, not even Webb can see them in the data,” NASA said.
The swept-up material from Wolf-Rayet stars can accumulate and form new stars. NASA revealed there is some evidence to show the sun may have also been formed that way.
Only 600 Wolf-Rayet stars have been found by astronomers in the sky, but they say there should be at least a few thousand.