The ring nebula – also known as Messier 57 – is a popular observation object among astronomy enthusiasts, as it can be found in the night sky even with smaller telescopes. Its shape is then reminiscent of a donut.

However, amateur astronomers will probably never achieve the visual power shown by the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA’s extremely powerful telescope delivers new images that show the planetary nebula in new detail. More than 2,200 light-years from Earth, the nebula is the remnant of a bygone star, with only its gaseous envelope remaining, according to current scientific knowledge. This process is said to have taken place in the universe about 20,000 years ago.

Today, the Ring Nebula fascinates scientists as well as laypeople – especially after the new images. “The James Webb Space Telescope has given us an extraordinary view of the Ring Nebula, unlike anything we have seen before,” said Mike Barlow of University College London and leader of the JWST Ring Nebula Imaging Project. “The high-resolution images not only reveal the intricate details of the nebula’s expanding envelope, but also reveal the inner region around the central white dwarf in exquisite clarity.”

“We are witnessing the final chapters in a star’s life, a preview of the Sun’s distant future, so to speak,” continued Barlow. His colleague Albert Zijlstra, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said: “We are amazed by the detail in the images, they are better than ever. We always knew that planetary nebulae are beautiful. What we are seeing now is spectacular.” However, the researchers are concerned with more than the aesthetic dimension of the images provided by the James Webb space telescope. They hope to gain further insights into the evolution and life cycles of stars.

Sources: University of Manchester / BBC

Take a look at the photo gallery: For a year now, the James Webb telescope has been delivering spectacular images from space. For the anniversary there is a look into a cosmic nursery.