NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of a star on the cusp of death.
The telescope’s infrared lens observed the gas and dust flung into space by a huge star 15,000 light-years away.
The shimmering purple cast-off material once comprised the outer layer of the star Wolf-Rayet 124.
It sits in the constellation Sagittarius and is 30 times more massive than our sun and has already shed enough material to account for 10 suns, according to NASA.
“What we’re seeing in this beautiful new image at the very centre is a star,” said NASA’s Amber Straughn.
“The light from that star has been travelling through space for about 15,000 years, it’s 15,000 light years away, until it hit the detectors on the telescope.
“And the material that you’re seeing around the central star that looks like dust is dust.
“And so at the end of a star’s life, they shed their outer material, their outer layers out into the rest of the universe.”
She added: “I think this is one of the most beautiful concepts in all of astronomy. This is Carl Sagan’s Stardust concept.
“The fact that the iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones was literally forged inside of a star that exploded billions of years ago.
“And that’s what we’re seeing in this new image. That dust is spreading out into the cosmos and will eventually create planets. And this is how we got here, in fact.”
Telescope captures delicate details
NASA released the picture at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.
The observation was among the first made by Webb following its launch in late 2021.
The Hubble Space Telescope snapped a shot of the same transitioning star a few decades ago – but it appeared more like a fireball, without the delicate details.
Such a transformation occurs only in some stars and is normally the last step before they explode, going supernova, according to scientists.
Last year the telescope captured an image of dust rings resembling a fingerprint created by two stars and took its first image of a planet outside of the solar system.