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‘Stunning’ NASA star photo could hold clues to origin of human life

By Natasha O’Neill

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    Mississauga, Ont. (CTV Network) — NASA’s telescope captured a “stunning” image of a star exploding and scientists say the secrets in its dust could help humans understand where we came from.

The supernova remnant Cassiopeia A — otherwise known as Cas A — is the youngest remnant from an exploding star in our galaxy, creating what researchers say is a “unique” opportunity to learn. It was seen from Earth 340 years ago.

The James Webb telescope, powered by NASA, released the mid-infrared image of Cas A on April 7, showing “never-before-seen” details of the supernova remnant.

According to researchers, this remnant could help answer the question of where cosmic dust comes from, which could help explain how humans came to be.

“By understanding the process of exploding stars, we’re reading our own origin story,” Danny Milisavljevic, principal investigator of the Webb program, said in a press release. “I’m going to spend the rest of my career trying to understand what’s in this data set.”

Milisavljevic says space dust, along with its gases and elements, are the building blocks of planets and humans.

The image’s “striking colours” are due to how infrared light is seen on camera from the wavelengths. These details, researchers say, hold a “wealth” of information.

The different colours in the image are sometimes gases, like the top left where orange and red can be seen indicating emission from warm dust, the press release reads.

“This marks where ejected material from the exploded star is ramming into surrounding circumstellar gas and dust,” researchers said.

Closer inside, there is bright pink with “clumps and knots.” According to researchers, the shining material is due to a mix of heavy elements like oxygen, argon and neon.

“We’re still trying to disentangle all these sources of emission,” Ilse De Looze, co-investigator on the program, said.

Scientists say the most interesting part of the image is the faint green loop on the right, which they have nicknamed “the Green Monster.” Right now, researchers cannot determine what this means.

“Compared to previous infrared images, we see incredible detail that we haven’t been able to access before,” Tea Temim a co-investigator said.

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