JWST Captures Square-Shaped Ripple Rings Around a Star | My Modern Met

By Madyson DeJausserand on September 23, 2022

Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/Ryan Lau/JWST ERS Team/Judy Schmidt

Even astronomers are surprised by the shape of this star’s ripples.


“Nope, I don’t know what this is…” admitted citizen scientist Judy Schmidt when she shared a perplexing image on Twitter of a start with square-shaped ripple rings. Schmidt works with unprocessed scientific data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) that has not been presented publicly to create incredible images. This glimpse of the star WR 140 is especially interesting.

The Mid-Infrared (MIRI) sensor on JWST reveals squarish, equidistant ripples surrounding the star, something European Space Agency science advisor Mark McCaughrean describesas “bonkers.” Schmidt’s Twitter thread is full of people sharing theories to explain the phenomenon, from a fingerprint being on the lens to it being proof that aliens are out there. McCaughrean assures, though, that the “red curvy-yet-boxy stuff is real, a series of shells around WR 140. Actually in space. Around a star.” And as McCaughrean points out in his Twitter thread, WR 140’s Wikipedia page features a similar image from fellow volunteer Melina Thévenot, highlighting that this is not user error.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA JWST MIRI, Melina Thévenot & Ryan Lau et al.

WR 140 is a Wolf-Rayet star, a massive and evolved star. The National Institutes of Natural Sciences explains that this type of star “has already lost [its] hydrogen-rich envelope,” and its surface is full of heavy elements, like carbon, that are created from its internal burning of helium. While other evolved stars expel lightweight hydrogen-rich materials, Wolf-Rayet stars expel all of those heavy elements, creating a large amount of dust.

McCaughrean explains that this dust surrounding WR 140 is “being sculpted by dynamical interactions with another star orbiting around it.” However, with other Wolf-Rayet stars, this sculpting ends up creating spirals. The scientist says coming up with an explanation for the geometry of WR 140’s shells “isn’t immediately obvious” to him. Thankfully, Ryan Lau, a NOIRlab astronomer and the collector of this exciting dataset, has some promising news to all of us wondering: “Yes, those nested ‘squircular’ rings are real. Our paper on this has been submitted so please stay tuned for the full story.” […]

More: JWST Captures Square-Shaped Ripple Rings Around a Star

About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at http://www.sambaman.org.uk
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