The newly processed image looks out of a sci-fi movie but it is very real
Imagine dropping a shining gem into a dark pond, and you’ll get a close-up view of WR 140 as seen by JWST. Ripples spread from this binary system into space: vast shells of mostly hydrogen gas shed by one of the evolved companions, now illuminated by the heat of the stars.
The object in question is a Wolf-Rayet star, a type of aged star that is extremely hot and luminous. R136a1, the most massive known star, is a Wolf-Rayet star. WR 140 is one of the brightest of this type visible in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is a primary target for infrared observations, which is why studying it and similar systems with JWST is so exciting.
There are two stars in the system. One is a Wolf-Rayer with a mass 20 times that of our Sun. The second is a bright hot star with a mass of 50 suns that is still burning hydrogen. They orbit each other in a elliptical orbit every 7.9 years. Their stellar winds collide during their highly eccentric motion, changing the system’s infrared emission and carving the visible ripple structure.
The observations were made as part of a project led by Ryan Lau of Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. Melina Thévenot and Judy Schmidt, two independent citizen scientists, processed the images. The latter is also responsible for some of the incredible JWST images of galaxies, as well as the stunning views of Jupiter.