James Webb Space Telescope captures stunning image of rare Wolf-Rayet star

NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Webb ERO Production Team/Cover Images

The rare sight of a Wolf-Rayet star - among the most luminous, massive, and briefly detectable stars known - was captured by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope last June.

Webb shows the star, WR 124, in unprecedented detail with its powerful infrared instruments. The star is 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

Massive stars race through their lifecycles, and only some of them go through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova, making Webb's detailed observations of this rare phase valuable to astronomers.

The stars are in the process of casting off their outer layers, resulting in their characteristic halos of gas and dust.

The star WR 124 is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has shed 10 Suns' worth of material to date.

As the ejected gas moves away from the star and cools, cosmic dust forms and glows in the infrared light detectable by Webb.

The origin of cosmic dust that can survive a supernova blast and contribute to the universe's overall "dust budget" is of great interest to astronomers for multiple reasons.

Webb's detailed image of WR 124 preserves forever a brief, turbulent time of transformation, and promises future discoveries that will reveal the long-shrouded mysteries of cosmic dust.