The James Webb Space Telescope captured mysterious concentric rings around a distant star that astronomers are still working to explain.
The image, taken in July, which released on twitter (opens in a new tab) by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt, prompting a torrent of comments and head scratching. show a star (opens in a new tab) known as WR140 surrounded by regular wave-like circles that gradually fade away. The circles, however, are not perfectly round, but instead have a somewhat square feel, leading to speculation about possible extraterrestrial origins.
“I think it’s just nature doing something that’s simple, but when we look at it from just one point of view, it seems impossible at first to understand that it’s a natural phenomenon,” Schmidt told Space.com in an email. “Why is it the shape it is? Why is it so regular?”
Related: Marvel at the James Webb Space Telescope’s largest image of the cosmos yet (opens in a new tab)
Mark McCaughrean, an interdisciplinary scientist at the James Webb Space Telescope (opens in a new tab) Science Working Group and scientific adviser to the European Space Agency, called the feature “crazy” in a Twitter thread (opens in a new tab).
“The blue six-pointed structure is an artifact due to optical diffraction from the bright star WR140 in this #JWST MIRI image,” he wrote. “But the curvy but boxy red things are real, a series of shells around WR140. Actually in space. Around a star.”
He noted that WR140 is what astronomers call a Wolf-Rayet star, which has shed much of its hydrogen into space. These objects are also surrounded by dust, he added, that a companion star is carving into the strange shells.
Astronomers will know more soon thanks to a scientific paper currently under review on this mysterious phenomenon.
“Yes, those nested ‘squirrel’ rings are real,” Ryan Lau, NOIRLab astronomer and principal investigator for the project that acquired the observations, answer to (opens in a new tab) the twitter thread “Our document on this has been sent, so stay tuned for the full story.”
WR140, located about 5,600 Light years (opens in a new tab) away from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, is the so-called variable star that periodically dims and brightens. Whether the star’s variability has anything to do with the mysterious ripples remains to be seen.
The image, however, demonstrates the power of the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful observatory ever sent into space, which has been hailed for its revolutionary infrared vision and super-sharp eye.
Originally published on Space.com.