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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Spots a Jamboree of Stars Hiding in a Nebula

The James Webb Space Telescope had a terrific 2022—and it will not stop churning out the hits as the year closes out. One of its first bangers, released in July, was of the Southern Ring Nebula (or “Eight-Burst” nebula), a cloud of gas stretching out to nearly a light-year in distance. The newest photo peered even more into the object and revealed an incredible array of new structures and colors spewing out, giving us a vibrant new glimpse of one of the prettiest things to gawk at in space.

One of the big scientific findings from those first photos was that the nebula seemed to be home to at least two stars, and maybe more. As it turns out, the Southern Ring Nebula was hiding five stars—enough for a stellar dinner party it seems.

In a new study published in Nature Astronomy on Dec. 8, a group of researchers from around the world analyzed 10 different images of the Southern Ring Nebula taken by the Webb telescope to reconstruct this meeting of the stars and pinpoint their size, location, and other notable characteristics. The result is a new composite image that puts the full stellar hangout on display.

There are two red stars in the center, one of which is actually dying after having shed most of its material in all directions. Others (in blue) are dancing around in the vicinity. All have contributed to shaping the nebula’s edges and structure, stirring up gas and dust that comprises the structure’s rings.

Another view of the Southern Ring Nebula with filters that highlight the gaseous rings that orbit the structure.

Space Telescope Science Institute Office of Public Outreach

This is far from the last we’ll hear about the Southern Ring Nebula. NASA is expecting much more follow-up work to unveil more about how the nebula developed and how its stars have evolved over time—and what we might expect the entire party to look like moving forward. Doesn’t seem like this scene is dying down any time soon.

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