(CNN) — The James Webb Space Telescope has captured never-before-seen colorful detail in one of the best-observed remnants of an exploded star.
Cassiopeia A’s glowing gas and dust is the remnants of a star that exploded in a supernova and whose light first reached Earth 340 years ago. It is the youngest known supernova remnant in our galaxy, which is why the celestial object has been studied by many ground-based and space-based telescopes.
Cassiopeia A is 11,000 light-years away, in the constellation Cassiopeia, and the remnant extends for 10 light-years.
Observing Cas A allows scientists to better understand how starbursts occur.
Astronomers pointed the Webb Telescope and its instruments in the direction of Gauss A to see if the observatory’s infrared capabilities could pick up something other telescopes missed. Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, allowing the web to observe aspects of the universe that are otherwise invisible.
“Cas A represents a great opportunity to look at the debris field of an exploded star and perform a kind of stellar autopsy to understand what kind of star it was before and how it exploded,” said Danny Milisavaljevic, an assistant professor at Purdue University. The principal investigator of the Web project captured the new observations, in a statement.
“Compared to previous infrared images, we see incredible detail that was previously inaccessible to us,” research astronomer Dee Demim of Princeton University said in a statement.
A new infrared image of Cas A obtained by Webb was translated into visible light so that the human eye can see the colors of the residue. The red and orange glow on the outside of the remnant indicates hot dust, where material ejected before the star exploded collided with the surrounding gas and dust.
Inside the bubble-like structure of the residue, a glowing pink light, clusters and nodules with similar features can be seen. This material comes from an exploded star and includes bright heavy elements such as argon, neon and oxygen.
A bright green ring on the right side of the bubble has caught the interest of researchers.
“We named it the Green Monster after Fenway Park in Boston. If you look closely, you can see that it’s dotted with what look like mini bubbles,” explains Milisavljevic. “Its form and complexity are unexpected and difficult to understand.”
The team is still trying to understand the sources of the different colors in the image.
Studying supernova remnants like Gas A can help scientists understand cosmic dust, the building blocks of stars and planets, and how exploding stars release the key ingredients for life.
“By understanding the process of exploding stars, we are reading our own story,” says Milisavljevic. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to understand what’s in this data set.”