A new treasure trove of Webb photos has arrived! Near and mid-infrared images show every aspect of these spiral galaxies.
Humanity has spent centuries mapping the Earth's features, and we often repeat this process with more advanced tools. When we collect data, we get a more complete understanding of our planet.
Now, look out into space. Astronomers have been observing nearby spiral galaxies for decades. Both space-based and ground-based telescopes have stored data at wavelengths from radio to ultraviolet. Astronomers have long planned to use it NASA's James Webb Space Telescope For the highest resolution near and mid-infrared images ever taken of these galaxies, available to the public today.
Everyone can explore the latest collection of Webb's stunning images, showing stars, gas and dust at small scales outside our galaxy. Teams of researchers are studying these images to uncover the origins of these complex structures. The research community's collective analysis will ultimately enrich theorists' simulations, enhancing our understanding of star formation and the evolution of spiral galaxies.
The Webb Space Telescope images stunning structure in 19 nearby spiral galaxies
It's very easy to be completely fascinated by these spiral galaxies. Follow their clearly defined, star-filled arms to their centers, where there may be ancient star clusters and, occasionally, active supermassive black holes. Only NASA's James Webb Space Telescope can provide highly detailed views of nearby galaxies in a mix of near and mid-infrared — and a set of such images was released publicly today.
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 around the world. Before Webb took these images, PHANGS was already full of data from NASA Hubble Space Telescopethe Very large telescopeMulti-unit Spectroscopic Explorer, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, including observations in the ultraviolet, visible and radio. Webb's contributions to the field of near and mid-infrared provided many new puzzle pieces.
“Webb’s new images are extraordinary,” said Janice Lee, a strategic initiatives project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “It's astounding even to researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades. The bubbles and filaments are resolved to the smallest scales ever observed, and tell a story about the star formation cycle.”
Excitement quickly spread throughout the team as Webb's photos poured in. “I feel like our team is in a constant state of exhaustion — in a positive way — because of the amount of detail in these images,” added postdoctoral researcher Thomas Williams. In the Oxford university in the UK.
Follow the spiral arms
Webb's NIRCam (near infrared camera) captured millions of stars in these images, which shine with blue hues. Some stars are scattered throughout the spiral arms, but others are tightly clustered into star clusters.
The telescope's MIRI (mid-infrared instrument) data highlights the glowing dust, showing us where it is found around and among stars. It also highlights stars that have not yet fully formed, as they are still covered in the gas and dust that fuels their growth, such as the bright red seeds at the tips of dusty peaks. “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.
Another thing that amazed astronomers? Webb's images show large spherical shells in gas and dust. “These holes may have been created by the explosion of one or more stars, creating giant holes in the interstellar material,” explained Adam Leroy, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus.
Now, trace the spiral arms to find extended regions of gas appearing in red and orange. “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.” Studying these structures will provide fundamental insights into how galaxies are built, maintained, and stop star formation.
Evidence suggests that galaxies grow from the inside out, with star formation starting at the core of galaxies and spreading along their arms, moving away from the center. The farther the star is from the core of the galaxy, the younger it is likely to be. In contrast, regions near the cores that appear to be illuminated by blue spotlight are clusters of older stars.
What about galaxy nuclei filled with pink and red diffraction spikes? “This is a clear sign that a supermassive active cluster may exist Black holeEva Scheinerer, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, said. “Or the star clusters towards the center are so bright that they saturate that area of the image.”
An abundance of research
There are many research avenues that scientists can begin to pursue using the combined PHANGS data, but the unprecedented number of stars discovered by Webb is a great place to start. “Stars can live for billions or trillions of years,” Leroy said. “By precisely cataloging all types of stars, we can build a more reliable and comprehensive view of their life cycles.”
In addition to releasing these images immediately, the PHANGS team also released the largest catalog to date of nearly 100,000 star clusters. “The scale of analysis that can be done with these images is far greater than anything our team can handle,” Rozolovsky stressed. “We are excited to support the community so all researchers can contribute.”
Don't miss the images below: Web images split with images of the same galaxies captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's leading space science observatory. Webb solves the mysteries of our solar system, looks beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and explores the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. WEB is an international program led by NASA with its partners the European Space Agency (ESA).European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.
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