It was one of the first famous images revealed by the James Webb Space Telescope earlier this year: a beautiful layer of gas and dust illuminated by a dying star at its center.
Now, researchers analyzing data from the most powerful telescope in history have found evidence of at least two previously unknown stars lurking in the stellar graveyard.
The Southern Ring Nebula, located in the Milky Way about 2,000 light-years from Earth, was previously thought to contain two stars.
One, nestled in the center of the nebula, is a white dwarf star that, in its dying breath, has spewed out streams of gas and dust over thousands of years, thereby forming the surrounding cloud.
Diminished, this extremely hot white dwarf is less visible of the two stars seen in the images Webb released in July.
The white dwarf has given astronomers a glimpse into how our Sun might die one day — billions of years from now.
Unlike our lone Sun, it has a companion, the brighter of the two in Webb’s image.
However, this binary system, common across the Milky Way, does not explain the “atypical” structure of the nebula, said Philippe Amram, an astrophysicist at France’s Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory , told AFP.
Amram is one of the co-authors of a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Thursday that used Webb’s observations to uncover more of the nebula’s secrets.
Since the nebula was discovered in 1835 by British astronomer John Herschel, astronomers have wondered why it has “such a strange shape, not really a sphere,” Amram said.
By analyzing data from Webb’s infrared camera, researchers say they’ve found evidence of at least two other stars inside the nebula, whose diameter is equivalent to 1,500 times the distance from the Sun to the Sun. The Pluto.
While the new pair is slightly farther away than the white dwarf and its companion, all four stars — or possibly even five — are located at the center of the nebula.
Amram says they are close enough to interact with each other, and their “energy exchange” creates the strange shape of the nebula.
The Webb telescope, which has been in operation since July, has released an unprecedented flood of data and scientists hope it will herald a new era of discovery.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from an aggregated feed.)
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