February 26, 2024

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Stunning JWST images of 19 spiral galaxies reveal incredible diversity

Stunning JWST images of 19 spiral galaxies reveal incredible diversity

If you are fascinated by nature, these pictures of spiral galaxies will not help you escape your magic.

These images show stunning detail in 19 spiral shapes, imaged head-on by the James Webb Space Telescope. The galactic arms are illuminated by a large number of infrared stars, as are the dense galactic cores, where supermassive black holes are located.

The James Webb Space Telescope captured these images as part of the Physics at High Angle Resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) programme. Fang It is a long-term program aimed at understanding how gas and star formation interact with galactic structure and evolution.

These web images are part of a large, long-term project, the Physics at High Angle Resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) programme, which is supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide. Before Webb took these images, PHANGS was packed with data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope's Multi-Module Spectrograph Explorer, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, including observations in ultraviolet, visible, and radio light. Webb's contributions to the field of near and mid-infrared provided many new puzzle pieces. (NASA/ESA/CSA)

One of Webb's four primary scientific goals is to study how galaxies form and evolve, and the PHANGS program fuels this effort. VLT, ALMA, Hubble, and now JWST have all contributed to this.

“Webb's new images are extraordinary. They are stunning even for researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades.”

Janice Lee, project scientist, Space Telescope Science Institute.

JWST can see in near-infrared (NIR) and mid-infrared (MIR) light. This means that it reveals different details, more detail, than even the powerful Hubble Space Telescope, which operates in visible light, ultraviolet light, and a small portion of infrared light.

A spiral galaxy whose arms extend further to the right than to the left, making it appear lopsided
This is NGC 4254 (Messier 99), a spiral galaxy about 50 million light-years away. It has a peculiarity, in that one spiral arm looks natural, and the other is extended and less tight. Although it is not a starburst galaxy, it forms stars three times faster than other similar galaxies. This rapid rate of star formation may have resulted from interaction with another galaxy about 280 million years ago. With the help of the James Webb Space Telescope, the PHANGS program will help astronomers understand the history of NGC 4254. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team)

In these high-resolution images from the James Webb Space Telescope, the red color is gas and dust emitting infrared light, which the James Webb Space Telescope excels at seeing. Some images contain bright diffraction bumps in the center of the galaxy, which are caused by a huge amount of light.

This could indicate an active supermassive black hole, or it could be from an extremely high concentration of stars.

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“This is a clear sign that there may be an active supermassive black hole,” said Eva Scheinerer, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. “Or the star clusters towards the center are so bright that they saturate that area of ​​the image.”

Central detail of spiral galaxy with lens flare like spikes in the center
The diffraction spike at the center of NGC 1365 is a telescope artifact caused by an enormous amount of light in a compact area. This is caused either by an active supermassive black hole or by tightly packed stars at the center of the galaxy. NGC 1365 is a double-bar spiral galaxy about 74 million light-years away. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS team)

The stars near the galactic center are usually much older than the stars in the arms. The farther a star is from the center of the galaxy, the younger it is. The newest stars appear blue, having blown up the cocoon of gas and dust in which they were born.

Orange masses indicate younger stars. It is still wrapped in a blanket of gas and dust, still actively collecting and shaping materials.

“This is where we can find the newest and most massive stars in galaxies,” said Eric Rozolovsky, a professor of physics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

This is NGC 1672, a spiral galaxy about 60 million light-years away. It may be a Type II Seyfert galaxy, although astronomers are not entirely sure. It has a bright core and a surrounding starburst region. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS team)

The new images were released alongside some Hubble views of the same galaxies. These highlight how observing different wavelengths of light reveals or obscures different details in galaxies. In the PHANGS observing program, different telescopes observed galaxies in visible, infrared, ultraviolet, and radio light.

Since the human eye cannot see infrared light, different visible colors are assigned to different wavelengths of light in order to make images meaningful. In the JWST image of NGC 628 above, the galactic center is filled with ancient stars that emit some of the shortest wavelengths of light a telescope can detect. They have been given a blue color to make them visible.

In the Hubble image, the same area appears more yellow and dull. The region emits the longest wavelengths of light that Hubble can sense, so it has different color assignments than the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Hubble (left) and JWST (right) view of spiral galaxies
Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 628 (left) and the same galaxy as imaged by the James Webb Space Telescope (right). Both images are large, inspiring, and informative, but the James Webb Space Telescope image provides more detail. Large bubble-shaped gaps appear between gas and dust concentrations. In some images, this could be caused by supernovae. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS team)

Janice Lee is a project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

She spoke for us all when she said: “Webb's new images are extraordinary. They are astonishing even to researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades. The bubbles and filaments are resolved down to the smallest scales ever observed and tell a story about the star formation cycle.”

These galaxies are all spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, which means they are defined by massive arms. The spiral arms resemble waves traveling through space rather than individual stars moving collectively. Astronomers study the arms because they can provide fundamental insights into how galaxies are built and maintained and stop star formation.

“These structures tend to follow the same pattern in certain parts of galaxies,” Rozolovsky added. “We think of them like waves, and their spacing tells us a lot about how the galaxy distributes gas and dust.”

Since it began science operations, the James Webb Space Telescope has provided astronomers with a massive stream of data that will fuel research for years and decades to come. These beautiful images are just part of a larger data release that includes a catalog of about 100,000 star clusters.

“The scale of analysis that can be done with these images is far greater than anything our team can handle,” said Eric Rozolovsky of the University of Alberta. “We are excited to support the community so all researchers can contribute.”

This article was originally published by The universe today. is reading Original article.