The Webb Space Telescope reveals “exciting” secrets of a picturesque planetary nebula

Southern Ring Nebula Speakers (Webb NIRCam and MIRI Composite)

This picture of the Southern Ring Nebula (NGC 3132) was taken by the Close to Infrared Webcam (NIRCam) and Medium Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Credit score: Science: NASA, CSA, ESA, STScI, Ursula DiMarco (Maquarie College), Picture processing: Joseph DiPascual (STScI)

The researchers reconstructed the scene, discovering as many as three unseen stellar companions which will have shaped the layers of gasoline and dirt within the planetary nebula.

Wait, what number of stars are on this celebration? There have been most likely as many as 5 – however solely two are exhibiting up now! A analysis workforce not too long ago started poring via extremely detailed net pictures of the Southern Ring Nebula to reconstruct the scene. It is doable that multiple star interacted with the fainter two central stars, which seem purple on this picture, earlier than creating this jaw-dropping planetary nebula. The primary star to “dance” with the celebration host created a lightweight present, sending jets of fabric in reverse instructions. Earlier than retiring, he gave Faint Star a mud cloak. Now a lot youthful, the dancer himself could have merged with the dying star—or now vanish in her glow.

A 3rd customer could have approached the central star a number of instances. This star stirred up the jets launched by the primary companion, serving to to create the undulating shapes we see in the present day on the edges of gasoline and dirt. To not be disregarded, a fourth star whose orbit is anticipated to be a lot wider additionally contributed to the celebration. They circled the scene, additional stirring up the gasoline and dirt, and giving delivery to the huge system of rings seen outdoors the nebula. The fifth star is essentially the most well-known – it is the brilliant blue-white star seen within the pictures that continues to spin quietly and predictably.

The tip results of the show is an correct measurement of the mass the central star had earlier than it ejected its layers of gasoline and dirt. Researchers estimate that the star was about 3 times the mass of the Solar earlier than it created this planetary nebula — and about 60 % the mass of the Solar afterward. It is nonetheless early days – that is a number of the first printed analysis on a few of Webb’s first pictures to be launched, so a number of particulars are certain to come back.

Gas in the Southern Ring Nebula (Webb NIRCam and MIRI Composite Images)

The Webb Area Telescope provides utterly completely different views of the identical scene! Every picture combines close to and mid infrared mild from three filters.
On the left, a Internet picture of the Southern Ring Nebula highlights the superheated gasoline surrounding the central stars. This sizzling gasoline is connected to a pointy ring of chilly gasoline, which is seen in each pictures.
At proper, Webb’s picture tracks the star’s scattered outflows which have reached farther out into the universe. Many of the molecular gasoline outdoors the cryogenic gasoline vary can be chilly. It is usually way more lumpy, made up of dense knots of molecular gasoline that type a halo across the central stars. “One of many issues that caught my consideration was the robust distinction between the photographs of the recent ionized gasoline and the chilly molecular gasoline,” defined Isabel Aleman of the Federal College of Itajuba (UNIFEI) in Brazil. “The new gasoline may be very easy, however the chilly gasoline exhibits these little clumps, spikes, and arcs. Webb’s pictures are very wealthy intimately.”
By calculating temperatures and gasoline contents in each areas, each inside and outdoors the vary, and by combining Webb’s knowledge with exact measurements from different observatories, she and the analysis workforce have been in a position to create way more correct fashions to show when the gasoline was ejected by the central star (proven in purple). pictured on the left).
What concerning the third star seen on the decrease proper fringe of the band throughout the nebula? In Webb’s view, they seem throughout the scene, however are usually not a part of the nebula itself. It is only a “mild blast” for this celebration.
Credit score: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Ursula DiMarco (Maquarie College), Picture processing: Joseph DiPascual (STScI)

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Their calculations show the central star was nearly three times the mass of the Sun before it ejected its layers of gas and dust. After those ejections, it now measures about 60 percent of the mass of the Sun. Knowing the initial mass is a critical piece of evidence that helped the team reconstruct the scene and project how the shapes in this nebula may have been created.

Southern Ring Nebula’s Spokes (NIRCam and MIRI Composite Image)

Examine the straight, brightly-lit lines that pierce through the rings of gas and dust around the edges of the Southern Ring Nebula in the Webb Space Telescope’s image. These “spokes” appear to emanate from one or both of the central stars, marking where light streams through holes in the nebula. The holes are evidence of where the dimmer star that created this scene shot out material, creating open pathways for light to flow through.
Some of the star’s ejections followed thin, straight lines (second box) through the gas and dust. Other ejections (first box) look bent, curvy, and thicker. Why? A team of researchers, led by Orsola De Marco of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, modeled how these complex structures might have formed. Studies of planetary nebulae have shown that even when dying stars eject their gas and dust at all angles simultaneously, the outflowing gas may not stay symmetrical for long. In the Southern Ring Nebula, the team projects that the straight lines may have been shot out hundreds of years earlier and at greater speeds than those that appear thicker and curvy. It’s possible the second set is a mix of material that slowed, creating less linear shapes.
By carefully comparing the appearance and timing of these ejections in the data and simulations, De Marco and her team propose that this is more evidence of the presence of a star with a slightly wider orbit that “stirred the pot” of ejections.
This image combines near- and mid-infrared light. The dimmer star that created the planetary nebula appears as a faint red star next to the central blue star.
Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Orsola De Marco (Macquarie University), Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

Let’s start with the top-tier celebrity of this particular “party,” the star that sloughed off its layers of gas and dust over thousands of years. It appears red in the image on the left because it is surrounded by an orbiting, dusty disk similar in size to our solar system’s

Southern Ring Nebula’s Gas (Webb NIRCam and MIRI Composite)

This image of the Southern Ring Nebula (NGC 3132) was captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Orsola De Marco (Macquarie University), Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

First, they focused on the aging star that cast off its layers and is still surrounded by a dusty red “cloak” of dust. Extensive research about these types of aging stars shows that dusty cloaks like these must take the form of dusty disks that orbit the star. A quick dive into the data revealed the disk. “This star is now smaller and hotter, but is surrounded by cool dust,” said Joel Kastner, another team member, from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “We think all that gas and dust we see thrown all over the place must have come from that one star, but it was tossed in very specific directions by the companion stars.”

Before the dying star shed its layers, the team proposes that it interacted with one or even two smaller companion stars. During this intimate “dance,” the interacting stars may have launched two-sided jets, which appeared later as roughly paired projections that are now observed at the edges of the nebula. “This is much more hypothetical, but if two companions were interacting with the dying star, they would launch toppling jets that could explain these opposing bumps,” De Marco explained. The dusty cloak around the dying star points to these interactions.

Where are those companions now? They are either dim enough to hide, camouflaged by the bright lights of the two central stars, or have merged with the dying star.

Illustration of Star Interactions in Southern Ring Nebula

How did all the “partygoers” – up to five stars – create the Southern Ring Nebula? Let’s hit “rewind” and replay the interactions that might have created the scene!
First, it’s important to know that none of these illustrations are properly scaled, and three or as many as four of the stars would be too small and dim to appear in Webb’s image. Second, star 1 and star 2 are the only stars we see in the sixth and final panel above. The remaining “guests” will be known as stars 3, 4, and 5. They are all much less massive – in other words far smaller and dimmer – than stars 1 and 2.
The first illustration shows a wider field. Star 1, the most massive of this group of five stars, is the fastest to age and is responsible for creating the planetary nebula. Star 2 very slowly orbits star 1, which is easier to see in the last panel. All is relatively quiet at this stage as they orbit one another, though there is another star on the scene, number 5. It orbits star 1 far more tightly than star 2 does.
Cue the action! The second panel zooms way in on the scene – and two other companions appear in view. Star 1 has begun to swell as it ages rapidly, swallowing star 3. Through gravity, star 3 starts to draw in material from star 1 and launches jets in both directions. Star 4 is close by, but not yet interacting.
The third panel shows how much star 1 has expanded as it ages. Two companions also enter the mix. Stars 3 and 4 have sent off a series of bipolar jets. As these two stars interact, the jets they sent out are tumbled, which leads to the irregular, wavy edges of the gas and dust ejected by aging star 1. Both companions 3 and 4 are interacting within the gas and dust star 1 has ejected.
In panel 4, we zoom out to see more of the scene. Ultraviolet light and a fast, spherical wind from the newly exposed ultra-hot core of star 1 is helping to carve out its previously ejected gas and dust, creating a bubble-like cavity. There is also a leftover disk of material from the previous interactions with star 3. Star 3 is no longer visible, but star 5 is now in view. It has a wider orbit and is drawing “lines” through the ejected gas and dust from star 1 as it orbits, like a knife through a bowl of icing.
Now, it’s time to zoom out even wider! At this stage, we’re getting closer to a view of the planetary nebula we see today. The fifth panel shows the same trio – stars 1 and 2 with star 5. Now, to mix it up again: As it orbits, star 5 continues to interact with the ejected gas and dust that slowly travels farther and farther from star 1 into the surrounding space, generating the system of large rings seen in the outer nebula.
The sixth panel portrays the scene as we observe it today – by zooming all the way out, we see only stars 1 and 2 in the Southern Ring Nebula.
Now that you’re oriented, read the full recap of the potential events.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)

The complex shapes of the Southern Ring Nebula are more evidence of additional unseen companions – its ejections are thinner in some areas and thicker in others. A third closely interacting star may have agitated the jets, skewing the evenly balanced ejections like spin art. In addition, a fourth star with a slightly wider orbit might have also “stirred the pot” of ejections, like a spatula running through batter in the same direction each time, generating the enormous set of rings in the outer reaches of the nebula.

What about the very bright blue-white star in Webb’s images? Think of the fifth star as the most responsible party guest that continues to orbit the dying star slowly, predictably, and calmly.

The two images shown here each combine near-infrared and mid-infrared data to isolate different components of the nebula. The image at left highlights the very hot gas that surrounds the central stars. The image at right traces the star’s scattered molecular outflows that have reached farther into the cosmos.

The team’s paper, entitled ” The messy death of a multiple star system and the resulting planetary nebula as observed by JWST,” was published in Nature Astronomy on December 8.

Reference: “The messy death of a multiple star system and the resulting planetary nebula as observed by JWST” by Orsola De Marco, Muhammad Akashi, Stavros Akras, Javier Alcolea, Isabel Aleman, Philippe Amram, Bruce Balick, Elvire De Beck, Eric G. Blackman, Henri M. J. Boffin, Panos Boumis, Jesse Bublitz, Beatrice Bucciarelli, Valentin Bujarrabal, Jan Cami, Nicholas Chornay, You-Hua Chu, Romano L. M. Corradi, Adam Frank, D. A. García-Hernández, Jorge García-Rojas, Guillermo García-Segura, Veronica Gómez-Llanos, Denise R. Gonçalves, Martín A. Guerrero, David Jones, Amanda I. Karakas, Joel H. Kastner, Sun Kwok, Foteini Lykou, Arturo Manchado, Mikako Matsuura, Iain McDonald, Brent Miszalski, Shazrene S. Mohamed, Ana Monreal-Ibero, Hektor Monteiro, Rodolfo Montez Jr, Paula Moraga Baez, Christophe Morisset, Jason Nordhaus, Claudia Mendes de Oliveira, Zara Osborn, Masaaki Otsuka, Quentin A. Parker, Els Peeters, Bruno C. Quint, Guillermo Quintana-Lacaci, Matt Redman, Ashley J. Ruiter, Laurence Sabin, Raghvendra Sahai, Carmen Sánchez Contreras, Miguel Santander-García, Ivo Seitenzahl, Noam Soker, Angela K. Speck, Letizia Stanghellini, Wolfgang Steffen, Jesús A. Toalá, Toshiya Ueta, Griet Van de Steene, Hans Van Winckel, Paolo Ventura, Eva Villaver, Wouter Vlemmings, Jeremy R. Walsh, Roger Wesson and Albert A. Zijlstra, 8 December 2022, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01845-2

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

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