Feast Your Eyes on 19 Face-On Spiral Galaxies Seen by Webb

These Webb images are part of a large, long-standing project, the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program, which is supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide. Before Webb took these images, PHANGS was already brimming with data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope’s Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, including observations in ultraviolet, visible, and radio light. Webb’s near- and mid-infrared contributions have provided several new puzzle pieces. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA

If you’re fascinated by Nature, these images of spiral galaxies won’t help you escape your fascination.

These images show incredible detail in 19 spirals, imaged face-on by the JWST. The galactic arms with their multitudes of stars are lit up in infrared light, as are the dense galactic cores, where supermassive black holes reside.

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Compare Images of a Galaxy Seen by Both Hubble and JWST

NGC 5068 is a barred spiral galaxy about 20 million light-years away. The Hubble captured this image of NGC 5068 in ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, R. Chandar (University of Toledo), and J. Lee (Space Telescope Science Institute); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

The James Webb Space Telescope is widely considered to be better than the Hubble Space Telescope. But the JWST doesn’t replace its elder sibling; it’s the Hubble’s successor. The Hubble is nowhere near ready to retire. It’s still a powerful science instrument with lots to contribute. Comparing images of the same object, NGC 5068, from both telescopes illustrates each one’s value and how they can work together.

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The Latest JWST Image Pierces Through a Shrouded Star-Forming Galaxy

A delicate tracery of dust and bright star clusters threads across this image of NGC 5068 from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

Sometimes an image is so engrossing that we can ignore what it’s telling us about its subject and just enjoy the splendour. That’s certainly true of this image of NGC 5068 released by the ESA. But Universe Today readers are curious, and after enjoying the galactic portrait for a while, they want to know more.

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Galaxies Aren’t Just Stars. They’re Intricate Networks of Gas and Dust

This image taken by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope shows the spiral galaxy NGC 1433. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and J. Lee (NOIRLab), A. Pagan (STScI)

Astronomers have studied the star formation process for decades. As we get more and more capable telescopes, the intricate details of one of nature’s most fascinating processes become clearer. The earliest stages of star formation happen inside a dense veil of gas and dust that stymies our observations.

But the James Webb Space Telescope sees right through the veil in its images of nearby galaxies.

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The Galactic Beauty of Star Formation

Image of Galaxy NGC 3627 located in the constellation LEO. The golden gas glow corresponds to clouds of ionized hydrogen, while the bluish regions reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. Credit: ESO/PHANGS

I’d never seen galaxy images like this before. Nobody had! These images highlight star forming regions in nearby(ish) galaxies. There are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding how star formation actually occurs. To answer those questions, we are observing galaxies that are actively forming stars within giant clouds of gas. Until recently, we didn’t have the resolution needed to clearly image the individual gas clouds themselves. But images released by a project called PHANGS (Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS) in a collaboration between the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large millimeter/submillmeter Array (ALMA) have provided never before seen detail of star forming clouds in other galaxies.

This image combines observations of the nearby galaxies NGC 1300, NGC 1087, NGC 3627 (top, from left to right), NGC 4254 and NGC 4303 (bottom, from left to right) taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Each individual image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas.. Image and Image Description PHANGS/ESO. Original Image
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