Newly Discovered Massive Triple Star System

Proof shows that big amounts of cosmic dust are produced as the outstanding winds of huge stars clash in Wolf-Rayet binary or multiple-star systems. As the stars orbit each other and dust is produced, a distinct pinwheel pattern is formed, as shown in this image from the European Southern Observatory. Warm dust like this shines in the mid-infrared wavelengths of light detectable by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Verifying the origin of dust will help account for the strange over-abundance of it discovered in galaxies, which is crucial to the later advancement of stars, worlds, and life as we understand it. Credit: ESO/Callingham et al.

Dust may seem irrelevant, however it plays a big role in the universe, from the formation of stars and planets to facilitating the complex chemistry that becomes the things of life– including us. It is a mystery that astronomers are thrilled to get to work resolving utilizing the specialized technology of NASA‘s James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope Artist Conception

Artist’s rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Astronomers discover themselves in a similar position when calculating the amount of dust galaxies must have; there is more dust than anticipated, and they do not understand where it’s coming from. Dust led to us.

” What we refer to as the ‘dust spending plan crisis’ is the major issue in astronomy of not being able to represent all the dust that’s observed in galaxies, both in the neighboring and far-off, early universe,” states Ryan Lau of the Japan Aerospace Expedition Company. Lau is leading an Director’s Discretionary-Early Release Science Program with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Area Telescope to study dust-producing Wolf-Rayet binary stars.

Wolf-Rayet stars are really hot and very brilliant. There is evidence that Wolf-Rayet stars, through interactions with a buddy star, produce large amounts of dust in a distinct pinwheel pattern as the two stars orbit each other and their stellar winds clash. It is possible that these binary-star systems account for a big portion of a galaxy’s “dust budget plan.” Nevertheless, the intense luminosity and heat coming from the Wolf-Rayet stars has actually made it difficult to study the faint, more diffuse dust of these systems. This is where Webb comes in.


This animation reveals the production of dust in the binary star system WR 140 as the orbit of the Wolf-Rayet star approaches the O-type star and their stellar winds clash. The more powerful winds of the Wolf-Rayet star blow back behind the O star, and dust is created in its wake as the blended stellar material cools.

” The mid-infrared light that Webb can find is exactly the wavelength of light we desire to look at to study the dust and its chemical structure,” Lau describes. Infrared wavelengths are longer than the wavelengths of noticeable light, and so can slide between dust grains to reach the telescope, rather than getting captured up bouncing around in the dust cloud.

” Webb has an unprecedented combination of spatial resolution and level of sensitivity in mid-infrared wavelengths that is really what enables us to conduct these intriguing observations,” Lau says. “We can achieve the spatial resolution from ground-based telescopes, however lack the sensitivity that Webb can accomplish from its observing location in space, without the disturbance of Earth’s environment. Conversely, with previous infrared space-based telescopes like NASA’s Spitzer mission, we could attain the sensitivity however did not have the spatial resolution.”

Targeting Two Dust Factories

Lau and the Director’s Discretionary-Early Release Science (DD-ERS) group will utilize Webb to study 2 Wolf-Rayet binary systems, using the telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). Another Wolf-Rayet binary, WR137, will experience its stars’ closest method to each other– when the most dust is thought to be produced– early in Webb’s objective when the DD-ERS program observations are arranged.

Beyond new discoveries about the development and chemical composition of dust, the DD-ERS program likewise will be among the first chances astronomers have to evaluate out best practices for Webb’s instruments and processing the information it provides.


This animation looks down from above the orbital aircraft to illustrate the spiraling development of dust in the binary star system WR140 The intermixed excellent material blows back past the O star, forming dust as it cools.

” This DD-ERS program will take a look at the best methods to maximize Webb’s dynamic range– the distinction between the brightest and faintest things it observes– which will be useful to the astronomy neighborhood in many methods the future; for example, in studying the dirty disk surrounding the brilliant center of an active galaxy, or finding a world orbiting an intense star,” says Mansi Kasliwal, another astronomer on the DD-ERS group. Kasliwal led the lab at the California Institute of Technology where Lau performed his post-doctoral research on Wolf-Rayet binaries and established the proposal for the DD-ERS program.

Both Lau and Kasliwal concur that while the open question of how cosmic dust is developed and shared throughout the universe is a remarkable one, it is actually a stepping stone towards responding to one of the most significant questions ever positioned: How did we get here? As far as we understand, Earth is an island of life in the universe, and in looking for to comprehend something as relatively remote as cosmic dust, Lau says that we are eventually seeking to comprehend ourselves.

The James Webb Area Telescope will be the world’s leading space science observatory when it launches in2021 Webb will solve secrets in our solar system, look beyond to far-off worlds around other stars, and probe the mystical structures and origins of our universe and our location in it.

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