Nasa has compared an exploded star to a spectacular Christmas bauble.
A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the 60-trillion-mile-wide supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A), which the space agency described as “like a shiny, round ornament ready to be placed in the perfect spot on a holiday tree”.
Nasa said: “Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) view of Cas A displays this stellar explosion at a resolution previously unreachable at these wavelengths.”
The high-resolution imagery unveils intricate details of the expanding shell of material slamming into the gas shed by the star before it exploded.
These pockets of sulfur, oxygen, argon, and neon, which harbour a mixture of dust and molecules, will eventually become components of new stars and planetary systems.
Though Cas A is one of the most well-studied supernova remnants, studied by Nasa’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and retired Spitzer Space Telescope, new technologies continue to discover unexpected features.
Danny Milisavljevic, who leads the research team at Purdue University, said: “With NIRCam’s resolution, we can now see how the dying star absolutely shattered when it exploded, leaving filaments akin to tiny shards of glass behind.
“It’s really unbelievable after all these years studying Cas A to now resolve those details, which are providing us with transformational insight into how this star exploded.”
The Webb telescope is the largest telescope in space and looks to solve mysteries in our solar system, picture distant worlds around other stars, and probe the unknown structures and origins of the universe and our place in it.