NASA releases image of a star on the cusp of death

March 15, 2023
a star with a pink, purple, and white haze and smoke, with black sky and distant stars in the background. Photo credit: NASA

We’ve never seen it like that before. It’s really exciting.

European Space Agency scientist Macarena Garcia Marin referring to a recently released image of a star on the brink of death.

Why It Matters: The star – located 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius – was observed by NASA's James Webb Telescope soon after it launched in 2021. (P.S. One light-year is equivalent to approx. 5.8 trillion miles!) On Tuesday, NASA released the image of the star to the public at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. The image shows the star undergoing a rare transformation that only some stars go through before they explode – AKA going supernova – which makes this image valuable to scientists. In the image, the star is seen shedding off its outer layers (as observed in the halos of gas and dust around the star's center).

Big Picture: Once a star goes supernova and explodes, the surviving cosmic dust "is of great interest" to scientists for many reasons; NASA describes this dust as "integral to the workings of the universe: It shelters forming stars, gathers together to help form planets, and serves as a platform for molecules to form and clump together – including the building blocks of life on Earth." The James Webb Telescope, which could operate in space for upwards of 10 years, allows astronomers to better understand the early development of the universe as they gain access to more concrete data and images.

NASA’s Webb Telescope Captures Rarely Seen Prelude to Supernova (NASA)

NASA Webb telescope captures star on cusp of death (The Associated Press)

by Jenna Lee,