NASA released an image on Tuesday of what seems to be concentric rings emanating from the point of contact between a pair of enormous stars known as the Wolf-Rayet 140, which is around 5,000 light-years from Earth. This pair consists of a Wolf-Rayet star ten times the size of the sun and a supergiant companion star thirty times the size of the sun.
According to NASA’s description of the shot, the rings are created every eight years, when the two stars’ orbits bring them close together. The stellar winds, or gas streams, are squeezed and transformed into dust, forming rings.
NASA referred to the interaction between two stars and the wave-like rings coming from their nearly-contact point as a “celestial dance.” The agency said that the rings depicted in this image resemble circles on a tree trunk, with each ring representing a new eight-year cycle.
The Wolf-Rayet 140 star system will produce dust for more than a century, according to astronomer Ryan Lau, principal author of a research on the system. “The image also demonstrates the sensitivity of this telescope. Previously, just two dust rings were visible using ground-based telescopes. We now see at least seventeen of them.”
Peter Tuthill, an astronomy professor at the University of Sydney and co-author of the study, told The Guardian that the photograph demonstrates how Wolf-Rayet 140 “puffs out” a smoke ring every eight years “like clockwork.”
“Eight years later, as the double returns to its orbit, another identical ring appears, spilling out into space inside the bubble of the previous ring, like a big nest of Russian dolls,” explained Tuthill.
The James Webb telescope has been sending back photograph after photograph of never-before-seen space imagery, including images of a galaxy that is 13.5 billion years old, the oldest area of space ever observed by mankind. The James Webb telescope is now orbiting the sun at a distance of approximately one million miles from Earth in order to examine light from distant galaxies.
In September, the telescope obtained photographs of the Orion Nebula, which is approximately 1,350 light-years away from Earth. The telescope’s infrared cameras were able to detect star-forming clouds and gas cocoons that the Hubble telescope missed.
Also in September, the telescope captured a clear image of Neptune’s rings, offering the clearest glimpse of the planet since Voyager 2 sailed by in 1989.