A new image from NASA's James Webb Telescope has been released which reveals 17 dust rings created by two stars that look like a fingerprint. 

The 'fingerprint' was created by a rare type of star and its companion which are locked in a celestial dance more than 5,000 light years from Earth. 

The 17 rings were formed when the two stars came close together and the streams of gas they blow into space collided, compressing the gas and forming dust.

The duo, which is collectively known as Wolf-Rayet 140 (WR 140), are brought together by their orbit about once every eight years.

The Herald: Chris Gunn/NasaChris Gunn/Nasa (Image: Chris Gunn/Nasa)

Similar to the rings of a tree’s trunk, the dust loops mark the passage of time.

Ryan Lau, an astronomer at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, said: “We’re looking at over a century of dust production from this system.

“The image also illustrates just how sensitive JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) is.

"Before, we were only able to see two dust rings, using ground-based telescopes. Now we see at least 17 of them.”

The findings which are published in the journal Nature Astronomy, report on Webb’s overall sensitivity, as well as how the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is uniquely qualified to study the dust rings

The dust rings, or shells as researchers refer to them can be seen in infrared light which is a range of wavelengths invisible to the human eye.

The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) played a key role in designing and building MIRI’s spectrometer.

It was used to reveal the composition of the dust, formed mostly from the material ejected by the star which is a special type of star.

The Wolf-Rayet star is born with at least 25 times more mass than the Earth’s sun and is nearing the end of its life.

It generates powerful winds that push huge amounts of gas into space and is burning hotter than in its youth.

The Wolf-Rayet star in this particular pair may have shed more than half its original mass via this process, experts suggest.

Researchers equate the process of transforming gas into dust to turning flour into bread meaning that it requires specific conditions and ingredients.

The most common element found in stars, Hydrogen, cannot form dust on its own.

However, since Wolf-Rayet stars shed so much mass, they also eject more complex elements which are typically found deep in a star’s interior like carbon.

The heavy elements in the wind cool down as they travel into space.

When the winds from both stars meet they are then compressed just as when two hands knead dough.

Although some Wolf-Rayet systems form dust, none are known to make rings as Wolf-Rayet 140 does, researchers say.

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We see this unique ring pattern forming as a result of the orbit of the Wolf-Rayet star in WR 140 being elongated, not circular.

It is only when the stars come close together - about the same distance between Earth and the sun- and their winds collide that the gas is under sufficient enough pressure to form dust.

The astronomers believe that WR 140’s winds also swept the surrounding area clear of residual material that they might otherwise collide with.

This theory could explain why the rings are so pristine.

Dr Olivia Jones, Webb Fellow at the UK ATC in Edinburgh, and a co-author of the study, said: “Not only is this a spectacular image but this rare phenomenon reveals new evidence about cosmic dust and how it can survive in the harsh space environments.

“These kinds of discoveries are only now opening up to us through the power of Webb and MIRI.”