Out there in space, the stars remind us that even our Sun won’t live forever.
All stars eventually exhaust their nuclear fuel, running out of fusible material.
For Sun-like stars, they’ll grow into red giants, and afterward, gently die away.
They first pulse, blowing off their outer, gaseous layers.
Then the central, fuel-exhausted star contracts and heats up: forming a white dwarf.
This heating ionizes and illuminates the ejected material, creating a planetary nebula.
The closest planetary nebula to Earth is just over ~2000 light-years away: the Ring Nebula.
Discovered in 1779, its ring-like appearance is only part of the story.
An enormous set of diffuse, hydrogen-rich shells surround it.
Two lobes of low-density gas extend in both directions along our line-of-sight.
The “ring” feature appears so prominently because we’re oriented along the nebula’s poles.
But JWST’s infrared eyes reveal features superior to any other view.
Its high-resolution cameras reveal ~20,000 dense knots of gas inside.
The inner filaments showcase intricate details as radiation gradually boils them away.
Roughly 10 concentric arcs, rich in hydrocarbons, surround the main “ring” feature.
Inside, warm, lower-density material fills the inner spheroidal region.
Overall, JWST unveils the Ring Nebula more accurately than ever before.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words.