James Webb Space Telescope Takes Pictures of the Ring Nebula: Can You Finally Explain the Nebula’s Shape? | Science and the planet

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured stunning new images of the famous Ring Nebula, one of the most famous planetary nebulae. Scientists, including researchers from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, released the images to the public. Photographs by James Webb reveal new details about Ringvels. One of these questions might explain what gives the well-known nebula its shape.

The Ring Nebula is located about 2,200 light-years from Earth and is a well-known object in the constellation Libra. You can observe it all summer with binoculars under dark skies in the Northern Hemisphere and much of the Southern Hemisphere. With a small telescope, you can actually see the distinctive donut-like structure of the glowing gas that gives the Ring Nebula its name. It’s a planetary nebula, the remnant of a dying star that sheds much of its mass at the end of its life.

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The Ring Nebula was imaged by the James Webb NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera). © Belga_handut

The amazing structure and vibrant colors of the Ring Nebula have long captured the imagination of mankind. And thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, we can now also see the well-known nebula in a new way. The space telescope captured the images using NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Medium Infrared Instrument). They serve not only to admire the Ring Nebula, but of course also to study and understand the complex processes that formed the nebula. For example, the new images show details not only of the expanding envelope of the nebula, but also of the inner region surrounding the white dwarf.

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For example, scientists have seen that the nebula’s “ring” consists of up to 20,000 separate bubbles of hydrogen, each as massive as our planet. In addition, so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have also been observed, which are building materials necessary for the development of “life”. Surprisingly, the researchers did not expect to find them in the Ring Nebula.

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James Webb Space Telescope.
James Webb Space Telescope. © NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

Webb’s images also show strange “arms” outside the ring pointing directly away from the central star. These streaks are prominent in the infrared, but are barely visible in Hubble Space Telescope images. The researchers believe that this is due to the fact that certain particles can form in the shadows of the ring. There they are protected from the direct and intense radiation of the hot central star.

Finally, in the faint halo outside the ring, the researchers detected ten concentric arcs. They believe that these arcs indicate the presence of a companion star in the system. This star would be as far from the central star as Pluto is from our Sun, and would be responsible for the familiar elliptical shape of the Ring Nebula (which would otherwise be spherical).

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Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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