This is what a star looks like as it’s about to die

This image provided by NASA shows the star Wolf-Rayet 124, center, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope in June 2022. A surrounding nebula is made of material cast off from the aging star in random ejections, and from dust produced in the ensuing turbulence. The telescope captured the rare and fleeting phase of the star on the cusp of death. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team via AP)

(Uncredited / Associated Press)

This is what a star looks like as it's about to die

March 15, 2023

The Webb Space Telescope has captured the rare and fleeting phase of a star on the cusp of death.

The observation was among the first made by the telescope following its launch in late 2021. NASA released the picture Tuesday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.

The telescope’s infrared eyes captured all the gas and dust flung into space by a huge, hot star 30 times as massive as our sun, some 15,000 light-years away. A light-year is about 5.8 trillion miles.

Shimmering in purple like a cherry blossom, the cast-off material once composed the star’s outer layer. The Hubble Space Telescope snapped a shot of the same transitioning star a few decades ago, but it appeared more like a fireball without the delicate details.

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Such a transformation occurs only with some stars and normally is the last step before they explode, going supernova, according to scientists.

Weve never seen it like that before. Its really exciting, said Macarena Garcia Marin, a European Space Agency scientist who is part of the project.

This star in the constellation Sagittarius, officially known as WR 124, already has shed enough material to account for 10 suns, according to NASA.