Astronomers Are Freaking Out Over Bizarre Rectangle-Shaped Rings in Space

An image of a bright star’s odd-shaped “rings” is the most recent mystery to come out of the super-powerful James Webb Space Telescope.

ABSTRACT breaks down mind-bending scientific research, future tech, new discoveries, and major breakthroughs.

In the eight months since the James Webb Space Telescope launched on its mission to explore the earliest formations of our universe, it’s sent back mind-blowing photographs of mysterious structures, ancient galaxies and dying stars. The JWST has 100 times the observational power of Hubble, and sometimes the images it captures outpace even our own understanding of space.

Advertisement

In a photograph of the star WR140, as pointed out by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt who reposted the image from the automated @JWSTPhotoBot on Twitter, a spiral of rings and rays fan out from the star’s bright white center. The rings aren’t perfectly circular, but look more like rounded squares, and not even astronomers seem to know what to do with it.

“I think it's just nature doing something that is simple, but when we look at it from only one viewpoint it seems impossible, at first, to understand that it is a natural phenomenon," Schmidt told Space.com, which reported on the bizarre image. "Why is it shaped the way it is? Why is it so regular?" 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

The feature is “bonkers,” according to Mark McCaughrean, an interdisciplinary scientist in the James Webb Space Telescope Science Working Group.

“The six-pointed blue structure is an artefact due to optical diffraction from the bright star WR140 in this #JWST MIRI image,” McCaughrean wrote on Twitter. “But red curvy-yet-boxy stuff is real, a series of shells around WR140. Actually in space. Around a star.”

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

Ryan Lau, an assistant astronomer at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab who led the program that gathered raw data on this and other JWST images, replied that “those nested ‘squircular’ rings are real,” and added that he and his colleagues have a paper coming on the subject that might shed more light on the rings’ odd shape.  

The puzzling shape of the rings aside, their existence isn’t much of a mystery. WR140 is actually a pair of stars: a Wolf–Rayet star, which is an old, rapidly depleting star, and an O-type star, which are massive and bright but short-lived. As the pair of stars orbit, they produce cosmic dust when they come close to one another every 7.94 years, which is kicked out into space as the rings visible in this image with the JWST’s infrared capabilities.

This is only the latest in the many discoveries the JWST has in store for us; while this one probably isn’t aliens, maybe the next one will be.

Sign up for Motherboard’s daily newsletter for a regular dose of our original reporting, plus behind-the-scenes content about our biggest stories.

Tagged:

james webb space telescope, worldnews, Science, astronomy, jwst, Abstract

More
like this
Joe Biden Somehow Screws Up Showing America a Cool Picture of Space
Stunning New James Webb Images Make Jupiter Look Like a Psychedelic Space Marble
Distant Galaxies Spotted by James Webb May Not Be So Distant Due to Errors
Mind-Blowing James Webb Space Photos Reveal ‘Structures That We Don’t Even Know What They Are’
James Webb Spots the Farthest Galaxy Humans Have Ever Seen, Near the Dawn of Time
NASA Detects CO2 in Alien World’s Atmosphere for the First Time
Behold, the Incredible First Image From NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
China Reveals Massive Project to Find ‘Earth 2.0’