NASA released an image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope of a rare astronomical sight — a dying star.

The image, which was released Tuesday, shows WR 124, a rare Wolf-Rayet star captured in June 2022 after the telescope first became operational, according to Space.com.

What is a Wolf-Rayet star?

A Wolf-Rayet star is a “rare prelude to the famous final act of massive stars: the supernova,” a press release from the Webb Space Telescope reads.

According to NASA, Wolf-Rayet stars are “among the most luminous, most massive, and most briefly detectable stars known,” because only some stars go through the Wolf-Rayet phase before the supernova phase.

During the Wolf-Rayet phase, stars “cast off” their outer layers, as seen in the image of WR 124, which is about 30 times the mass of the sun but has “shed 10 Suns’ worth of material — so far,” per NASA.

How did the James Webb Space Telescope capture an image of a dying star?

The image of WR 124 is a composite image that combines near-infrared wavelengths of light and mid-infrared wavelengths captured using the telescope’s “Near-Infrared Camera and Mid-Infrared Instrument,” according to a press release from NASA.

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Why is the image significant for space research?

The image, which depicts the star surrounded by the cosmic dust that it sheds off during the Wolf-Rayet phase, shows that the Webb Telescope is capable of imaging dust in great detail.

“Before Webb, dust-loving astronomers simply did not have enough detailed information to explore questions of dust production in environments like WR 124, and whether the dust grains were large and bountiful enough to survive the supernova and become a significant contribution to the overall dust budget,” according to NASA officials.

“Webb’s detailed image of WR 124 preserves forever a brief, turbulent time of transformation, and promises future discoveries that will reveal the long-shrouded mysteries of cosmic dust.”