A new James Webb image of ripple rings around a distant star has astronomers baffled

Schmidt trawls through raw public data to find new James Webb images that have not yet been presented to the public in all their glory. Her latest finding shows a star called WR140, which is surrounded by ripples that fade away as they move further away from the source.

A ‘bonkers’ new James Webb image

WR140, which is located roughly 5,600 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, is a variable star, meaning it observably changes brightness over extended periods. Strangely, the ripples seen in the new James Webb image are not perfectly circular, prompting some to theorize they might have alien origins.

In a Twitter thread, Mark McCaughrean, a science advisor to the European Space Agency, described the image as “bonkers.”

He explained that WR140 is a Wolf-Rayet star, meaning it has “ejected most of [its] hydrogen envelopes [and is] fusing helium or [has] stopped altogether.”

“The six-pointed blue structure is an artifact due to optical diffraction from the bright star WR140 in this #JWST MIRI image,” McCaughrean continued. “But red curvy-yet-boxy stuff is real, a series of shells around WR140. Actually, in space. Around a star.” He added that he doesn’t understand “why there are discrete, separated shells rather than a spiral structure,” but scientists are now working to explain the intricacies of the observations.

In fact, Ryan Lau, an astronomer at NOIRLab and principal investigator of the project that acquired the observations, replied to McCaughrean’s Twitter thread. He said, “our paper on this has been submitted, so please stay tuned for the full story.”

Leave a Comment