Southern Ring Nebula (NIRCam and MIRI Images Side by Side)

 Southern Ring Nebula (NIRCam and MIRI Images Side by Side)

This side-by-side comparison shows observations of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light, at left, and mid-infrared light, at right, from NASA’s Webb Telescope.

This scene was created by a white dwarf star – the remains of a star like our Sun after it shed its outer layers and stopped burning fuel through nuclear fusion. Those outer layers now form the ejected shells all along this view.

In the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image, the white dwarf appears to the lower left of the bright, central star, partially hidden by a diffraction spike. The same star appears – but brighter, larger, and redder – in the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) image. This white dwarf star is cloaked in thick layers of dust, which make it appear larger.

The brighter star in both images hasn’t yet shed its layers. It closely orbits the dimmer white dwarf, helping to distribute what it’s ejected.

Over thousands of years and before it became a white dwarf, the star periodically ejected mass – the visible shells of material. As if on repeat, it contracted, heated up – and then, unable to push out more material, pulsated. Stellar material was sent in all directions – like a rotating sprinkler – and provided the ingredients for this asymmetrical landscape.

Today, the white dwarf is heating up the gas in the inner regions – which appear blue at left and red at right. Both stars are lighting up the outer regions, shown in orange and blue, respectively.

The images look very different because NIRCam and MIRI collect different wavelengths of light. NIRCam observes near-infrared light, which is closer to the visible wavelengths our eyes detect. MIRI goes farther into the infrared, picking up mid-infrared wavelengths. The second star appears more clearly in the MIRI image, because this instrument can see the gleaming dust around it.

The stars – and their layers of light – steal more attention in the NIRCam image, while dust plays the lead in the MIRI image, specifically dust that is illuminated.

Peer at the circular region at the center of both images. Each contains a wobbly, asymmetrical belt of material. This is where two “bowls” that make up the nebula meet. (In this view, the nebula is at a 40-degree angle.) This belt is easier to spot in the MIRI image – look for the yellowish circle – but is also visible in the NIRCam image.

The light that travels through the orange dust in the NIRCam image – which looks like spotlights – disappears at longer infrared wavelengths in the MIRI image.

In near-infrared light, stars have more prominent diffraction spikes because they are so bright at these wavelengths. In mid-infrared light, diffraction spikes also appear around stars, but they are fainter and smaller (zoom in to spot them).

Physics is the reason for the difference in the resolution of these images. NIRCam delivers high-resolution imaging because these wavelengths of light are shorter. MIRI supplies medium-resolution imagery because its wavelengths are longer – the longer the wavelength, the coarser the images are. But both deliver an incredible amount of detail about every object they observe – providing never-before-seen vistas of the universe.

For a full array of Webb’s first images and spectra, including downloadable files, please visit: 

NIRCam was built by a team at the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center.

MIRI was contributed by ESA and NASA, with the instrument designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona.




About The Object
Object Name Southern Ring Nebula, NGC 3132, Eight-Burst Nebula
Object Description Planetary Nebula
R.A. Position 10:06:58.54
Dec. Position -40:26:00
Constellation Vela
Distance 2,000 light-years (590 parsecs)
About The Data
Data Description This image was created with Webb data from proposal . It is part of Webb Early Release Observations. The Early Release Observations and associated materials were developed, executed, and compiled by the ERO production team: Jaclyn Barrientes, Claire Blome, Hannah Braun, Matthew Brown, Margaret Carruthers, Dan Coe, Joseph DePasquale, Nestor Espinoza, Macarena Garcia Marin, Karl Gordon, Alaina Henry, Leah Hustak, Andi James, Ann Jenkins, Anton Koekemoer, Stephanie LaMassa, David Law, Alexandra Lockwood, Amaya Moro-Martin, Susan Mullally, Alyssa Pagan, Dani Player, Klaus Pontoppidan, Charles Proffitt, Christine Pulliam, Leah Ramsay, Swara Ravindranath, Neill Reid, Massimo Robberto, Elena Sabbi, Leonardo Ubeda.  The EROs were also made possible by the foundational efforts and support from the JWST instruments, STScI planning and scheduling, Data Management teams, and Office of Public Outreach.
Instrument NIRCam, MIRI
Exposure Dates 3 June 2022, 12 June 2022
Filters NIRCam> F090W, F187N, F212N, F356W, F405N, F470N MIRI>F770W, F1130W, F1280W, F1800W
About The Image
Color Info These images are a composite of separate exposures acquired by the James Webb Space Telescope using the MIRI (right) and NIRCam (left) instruments. Several filters were used to sample narrow and broad wavelength ranges. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic (grayscale) image associated with an individual filter. In this case, the assigned colors are:   Left> Red: F470N + F405N, Yellow: F356W, Green: F212N, Cyan: F187N, Blue: F090W Right> Red: F1800W, Green: F1280W, Cyan: F1130W, Blue: F770W
About The Object
Object Name A name or catalog number that astronomers use to identify an astronomical object.
Object Description The type of astronomical object.
R.A. Position Right ascension – analogous to longitude – is one component of an object's position.
Dec. Position Declination – analogous to latitude – is one component of an object's position.
Constellation One of 88 recognized regions of the celestial sphere in which the object appears.
Distance The physical distance from Earth to the astronomical object. Distances within our solar system are usually measured in Astronomical Units (AU). Distances between stars are usually measured in light-years. Interstellar distances can also be measured in parsecs.
Dimensions The physical size of the object or the apparent angle it subtends on the sky.
About The Data
Data Description
  • Proposal: A description of the observations, their scientific justification, and the links to the data available in the science archive.
  • Science Team: The astronomers who planned the observations and analyzed the data. "PI" refers to the Principal Investigator.
Instrument The science instrument used to produce the data.
Exposure Dates The date(s) that the telescope made its observations and the total exposure time.
Filters The camera filters that were used in the science observations.
About The Image
Image Credit The primary individuals and institutions responsible for the content.
Publication Date The date and time the release content became public.
Color Info A brief description of the methods used to convert telescope data into the color image being presented.
Orientation The rotation of the image on the sky with respect to the north pole of the celestial sphere.