Science

Mysterious rings in a new image from the James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured mysterious concentric rings around a distant star that astronomers are still working to explain.

The image, taken in July, was tweeted by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt, prompting a flood of comments and bewilderment. It depicts a star known as WR140 surrounded by regular, wavy circles that fade away. The circles, however, are not perfectly round, but have a somewhat square appearance, raising speculation about a possible alien origin.

“I think it’s just nature doing something simple, but when we look at it from just one perspective, it seems impossible at first to understand that it’s a natural phenomenon,” Schmidt told Space.com in an email. Why is he in such a shape? Why is he so correct?

Related: Marvel at the largest ever image of space ever taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Mark McCorian, an interdisciplinary scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope Science Working Group and scientific adviser to the European Space Agency, called the feature “crazed” in a Twitter thread.

“The six-pointed blue structure is an artifact due to optical diffraction from the bright star WR140 in this #JWST MIRI image,” he wrote. “But the red curly but square things are real, a series of shells around the WR140. Actually in space. around the star.

He noted that WR140 is what astronomers call a Wolf-Rayet star that has ejected most of its hydrogen into space. These objects are also surrounded by dust, he added, which the companion star sculpts into strange shells.

Astronomers will soon learn more thanks to a scientific paper currently under review on this mysterious phenomenon.

“Yes, these nested ‘square’ rings are real,” said Ryan Lau, an astronomer at NOIRLab and the project’s principal investigator, who obtained the observational data. “Our article on this has been submitted, so please stay tuned.”

WR140, located about 5600 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, is a so-called variable star that periodically dims and becomes brighter. It is not yet known whether the star’s variability is related to the mysterious ripples.

The image, however, shows the power of the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful observatory ever sent into space, which has been recognized for its revolutionary infrared vision and super-sharp vision.

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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