The Whirlpool Galaxy, Seen by JWST

The graceful winding arms of the grand-design spiral galaxy M51 stretch across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. New JWST observations of the early Universe are upending our understanding of galaxy evolution. Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, A. Adamo (Stockholm University) and the FEAST JWST team

The Whirlpool Galaxy, aka M51, is one of the most well-known objects in the night sky. It’s close enough and prominent in the northern sky that amateur astronomers have shared stunning pictures of it for decades. But you’ve never seen anything like this: M51 as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This image contains data from the telescope’s NIRCam and MIRI instruments, which shows incredible detail and reveals hidden features among the spiral arms.

Continue reading “The Whirlpool Galaxy, Seen by JWST”

Euclid Reaches L2, Shares its First Test Image

The first test images from the Euclid spacecraft. Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA

For astronomers, the only thing better than new data is more new data. And we seem to be in a golden age of data gathering. We’ve gushed over the latest images from the James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble continues to make observations, but several new space telescopes are lesser known, such as Gaia, TESS, and Swift. And now a new space telescope enters the game, known as Euclid. Euclid is an infrared telescope launched last month by the European Space Agency (ESA). It took 11 years to design and build the telescope, and it has just taken test images with its two primary detectors.

Continue reading “Euclid Reaches L2, Shares its First Test Image”

Supernovae are the Source of Dust in Early Galaxies

Images of SN 2004et and SN 2017eaw. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ori Fox (STScI), Melissa Shahbandeh (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Every now and then there’s an interesting discovery that helps us fill in a gap in our understanding of the universe. In the case of this latest discovery, we now have confirmation of a process we’ve long assumed, but have had little direct evidence for. It all has to do with cosmic dust.

Continue reading “Supernovae are the Source of Dust in Early Galaxies”

James Webb is a GO for Cycle 2 Observations!

Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has accomplished some amazing things during its first year of operations! In addition to taking the most detailed and breathtaking images ever of iconic celestial objects, Webb completed its first deep field campaign, turned its infrared optics on Mars and Jupiter, obtained spectra directly from an exoplanet’s atmosphere, blocked out the light of a star to reveal the debris disk orbiting it, detected its first exoplanet, and spotted some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe – those that existed at Cosmic Dawn.

Well, buckle up! The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) has just announced what Webb will be studying during its second year of operations – aka. Cycle 2! According to a recent STScI statement, approximately 5,000 hours of prime time and 1,215 hours of parallel time were awarded to General Observer (GO) programs. The programs allotted observation time range from studies of the Solar System and exoplanets to the interstellar and intergalactic medium, from supermassive black holes and quasars to the large-scale structure of the Universe.

Continue reading “James Webb is a GO for Cycle 2 Observations!”

JWST Shows How the Early Universe Was Furiously Forming Stars

This infrared image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was taken for the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey, or JADES, program. It shows a portion of an area of the sky known as GOODS-South, which has been well studied by the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories. More than 45,000 galaxies are visible here. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Brant Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), Ben Johnson (CfA), Sandro Tacchella (Cambridge), Marcia Rieke (University of Arizona), Daniel Eisenstein (CfA). Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

We can gaze out into regions in our neighbourhood of the Milky Way and find orgies of star birth. The closest region is in the Orion nebula, where astronomers have identified more than 700 young stars. They range from only 100,000 years—mere infancy for a star—to over a million years.

But we’re more than 13 billion years after the Big Bang now. What was star formation like way back when, when conditions in the Universe were so different?

Continue reading “JWST Shows How the Early Universe Was Furiously Forming Stars”

Galactic Black Hole Winds Blow Up to a Third the Speed of Light. The Impact on Their Galaxies is Impressive.

An artist’s impression of what the dust around a quasar might look like from a light year away. Credit Peter Z. Harrington

They are known as ultra-fast outflows (UFOs), powerful space winds emitted by the supermassive black holes (SMBHs) at the center of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) – aka. “quasars.” These winds (with a fun name!) move close to the speed of light (relativistic speeds) and regulate the behavior of SMBHs during their active phase. These gas emissions are believed to fuel the process of star formation in galaxies but are not yet well understood. Astronomers are interested in learning more about them to improve our understanding of what governs galactic evolution.

This is the purpose of the SUper massive Black hole Winds in the x-rAYS (SUBWAYS) project, an international research effort dedicated to studying quasars using the ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope. The first results of this project were shared by a group of scholars led by the University of Bologna and the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Italy. In the paper that describes their findings, the team presented X-ray spectroscopic data to characterize the properties of UFOs in 22 luminous galaxies.

Continue reading “Galactic Black Hole Winds Blow Up to a Third the Speed of Light. The Impact on Their Galaxies is Impressive.”

M87 Galaxy Reconstructed in Thrilling 3D

A photo of the huge elliptical galaxy M87 [left] is compared to its three-dimensional shape as gleaned from meticulous observations made with the Hubble and Keck telescopes [right]. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Olmsted (STScI), F. Summers (STScI)C. Ma (UC Berkeley); CC BY 4.0

In astronomy, we speak casually of extremely large numbers and extremely vast distances as if they’re trivial. A supermassive black hole can have several billion solar masses, a distant quasar is 500 million light-years away, etc. Objects like galaxies that are mere tens of millions of light years away start to seem familiar.

But even though our Wikipedia pages are full of data on distant objects, there’s a deceptive lack of understanding of some of their basic properties. Take Messier 87, for example, a galaxy often talked about and seen in images. It’s noteworthy for being home to the first black hole ever imaged.

It’s so far away that astronomers have no real idea what its three-dimensional shape is.

Continue reading “M87 Galaxy Reconstructed in Thrilling 3D”

JWST Sees So Many Galaxies, and It's Just Getting Started

The first of COSMOS-Web NIRCam observations obtained on Jan. 5-6, 2023 cover six visits or pointings of the James Webb Space Telescope. This shows the total area observed as well as specific galaxies selected from the first data. Credit: COSMOS-Web/Kartaltepe, Casey, Franco, Larson, et al./RIT/UT Austin/IAP/CANDIDE

Hubble Space Telescope’s Deep Field revealed thousands of galaxies in a seemingly empty spot in the sky. Now, the James Webb Space Telescope has taken deep field observations to the next level with its COSMOS-Web survey, revealing 25,000 galaxies in just six pictures, the first from this new survey.  

“It’s incredibly exciting to get the first data from the telescope for COSMOS-Web,” said principal investigator Jeyhan Kartaltepe, from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Physics and Astronomy, in press release. “Everything worked beautifully and the data are even better than we expected. We’ve been working really hard to produce science quality images to use for our analysis and this is just a drop in the bucket of what’s to come.”

Continue reading “JWST Sees So Many Galaxies, and It's Just Getting Started”

JWST Sees the Same Supernova Three Times in an Epic Gravitational Lens

JWST image with three smaller insets displaying three lensed images comprised of a single background galaxy up close. Supernova candidate AT 2022riv (middle image with parallel lines) is the oldest image, followed by two subsequent images ~320 days after the first image (bottom) and ~1000 days after the first image (top). Neither of the two subsequent images have the supernova present. (Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, P. Kelly)

The NASA/European Space Agency (ESA)/Canadian Space Agency (CSA) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) mission continues to dazzle and amaze with every image it beams back to Earth, and a recent observation depicting not one, not two, but three images of the same galaxy has been no different, as they proudly tweeted on February 28, 2023.

Continue reading “JWST Sees the Same Supernova Three Times in an Epic Gravitational Lens”

“The Universe Breakers”: Six Galaxies That are Too Big, Too Early

Images of six candidate massive galaxies, seen 500-700 million years after the Big Bang. One of the sources (bottom left) could contain as many stars as our present-day Milky Way, according to researchers, but it is 30 times more compact. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, I. Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology). Image processing: G. Brammer (Niels Bohr Institute’s Cosmic Dawn Center at the University of Copenhagen).

In the first data taken last summer with the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on the new James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers found six galaxies from a time when the Universe was only 3% of its current age, just 500-700 million years after the Big Bang. While its incredible JWST saw these galaxies from so long ago, the data also pose a mystery.

These galaxies should be mere infants, but instead they resemble galaxies of today, containing 100 times more stellar mass than astronomers were expecting to see so soon after the beginning of the Universe. If confirmed, this finding calls into question the current thinking of galaxy formation and challenges most models of cosmology.

Continue reading ““The Universe Breakers”: Six Galaxies That are Too Big, Too Early”