Powerful and raging forces can sculpt objects of graceful symmetry and beauty.

Such forces may lend a hand in our own existence as well.

There are two stars in the system and they are 5,400 light-years away. The stars are both beasts, but their brilliance is diminished because they are so far away.


Our eyes can't see much beyond what our eyes can see, but the James Webb Space Telescope can see far beyond what our eyes can see. Astronomers recently pointed at the twin stars and what they saw was amazing.

Astronomers have been wondering if grains of dust can escape from the violent stellar systems that surround them. The answer is yes, according to the observations of theJWST. The entire structure is at least two light-years in diameter and probably even more, as there are fainter arms farther out that lie beyond the reach of these JWST observations. This is the largest structure of its kind ever seen, four times the width of the next biggest one, and it's all because of the visible arms.

The rippling spiral appears to be a defect in the telescope. This eye-catching construct emerges from the clash of immense forces flinging vast amounts of matter into space at soul-crushing speeds.

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The stars in the system are much larger than the sun. One lies at the upper range of a normal star that shines by fusion of hydrogen and helium in its core. At 30 times the sun's mass it's a monster and a million times brighter than our sun. Earth would be cooked if the sun was replaced with a star in the center of the solar system.


There is a special class of stars called Wolf-Rayet that are part of the binary system. It probably began its life with 20 or more solar mass, but eventually ran out of usable hydrogen in its core and is now fusioning into carbon. The star has a delicate equilibrium between its gravity trying to collapse it and its inferNAL heat trying to make it explode. This will cause it to blow out material at a very high rate. The wind carried off half the star's mass, leaving the star with only 10 times the sun's mass. It is a radiation powerhouse because it is half as bright.

The Wolf-Rayet companion is expelling particles at a much higher rate than the other star. The spiral pattern in the JWST image is created by the collision of the two winds.

There are multiple star systems with a Wolf-Rayet component that researchers have seen before. The two stars are on an elliptical path. The distance between Neptune and Mars is roughly the distance from the sun to four billion kilometers.

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Every 7.93 years they come so close to each other, the winds begin to interact strongly. The wind blows at nine million kilometers per hour. Powerful shock waves are generated by their collision at those speeds.

Observers have shown that the Wolf-Rayet star has a lot of carbon in its wind. When the shock wave sweeps over the carbon, the atoms rearrange themselves into complex aromatic hydrocarbons. This material is called dust by the astronomer.


Their interaction is complex because of the expansion of the winds and stars. The structures seen in the JWST image have been reproduced in remarkable detail by the astronomy team.

A computer simulation models the physics behind the WR 140 system to show how the colliding winds from the two stars form a sweeping arm of dust that expands away from the system, and replicates the images from JWST quite well.
A computer simulation models the physics behind the WR 140 system to show how the colliding winds from the two stars form a sweeping arm of dust that expands away from the system, and replicates the images from JWST quite well. Credit: Han et al. 2022

The cumulative effects of stellar winds and radiation make most of the dust just before and after the stars are closest to each other. As streamers fly away from the point of contact, we can see a pattern of sand flung off a dump truck.

Each time the stars approach each other, the process of generating twin sprays of expanding material is repeated. A rippling pattern of dusty arms and rarefied gaps is created by every set of sprays that flies away at high speed. After it is created, the dust is warm and can be seen by the JWST's instruments. The outer arms look dimmer due to the fact that they cool and fade as the arms expand. There are 17 spiral arms with incomplete arcs in the image.

Astronomers weren't sure if the dust was created near the stars or in the depths of space, but the spiral patterns show it. Similar stars can account for a lot of the dust in our universe.

There is a lot of dust in the clouds of gas that can eventually collapse and create a lot of stars. The sun is thought to have been born in one of the star forming factories. It is believed that the winds from a nearby Wolf-Rayet star can cause a cloud to collapse.


The fury of a system likeWR 140 can be seen from the incredible luminosities of its stars. There is order in the chaos, thanks to the laws of physics, which create a pattern that can be seen across the space-time continuum.

A part of the creation of new stars could be caused by the mix of dust and older material floating in space.

Indeed, poetry.

The views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those ofScientific American.