The James Webb Telescope has captured the final chapters of a star's life. The Ring Nebula, so-called due to its wispy, doughnut-like structure, has been captured as the celestial body is dying.
The nebula is around 2,600 light years away from Earth, located in the Lyra constellation, and was born from a dying star that expelled its outer layers, showcased in the picture by the glowing pink ring.
Now astronomers are saying the image can help provide new insights into what happens to stars as they die. Dr Mike Barlow, who led an international team of scientists on the project, said it offered "a preview of the sun's distant future".
Dr Barlow said the new image of Ring Nebula, also known as Messier 57, also revealed the inner region of the nebula's expanding colourful shell around the central white dwarf "in exquisite clarity".
He said: "We are witnessing the final chapters of a star's life, a preview of the sun's distant future so to speak, and JWST's observations have opened a new window into understanding these awe-inspiring cosmic events. We can use the Ring Nebula as our laboratory to study how planetary nebulae form and evolve."
The so-called "planetary nebulae" is a misnomer that dates back to the 18th century, when the astronomer William Herschel mistook their curved shapes for those of planets. The Ring Nebula is a well-known "planetary nebula" and is visible throughout the summer.
It formed when a dying star blasted much of its substance into space, producing a variety of patterns and glowing rings and wispy clouds that seem to ripple outwards. "We are amazed by the details in the images, better than we have ever seen before," Albert Zijlstra, professor in astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said.
"We always knew planetary nebulae were pretty. What we see now is spectacular."