James Webb unveils stunning new galaxy images

The first batch of JWST images wasn’t enough for you? Here are new lavish images of a few galaxies!

Nothing can stop the James Webb Space Telescope! The machine only became officially operational very recently, but it is already bombarding researchers with scientific data of remarkable precision. For the general public, it is also a golden opportunity to revel in a lot of great pictures, and there are new things on the menu! After the most distant image ever taken in infrared, then Stephan’s Quintet, the Carina Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula (see our article), today astronomer Judy Schmidt presents a new series of incredible images.

The interested party is a licensed galaxy hunter who has spent most of his career scrutinizing these cosmic structures. Over the years, it has built up a huge database by collecting hundreds of hours of observation with some of the most efficient telescopes in the world. We also highly recommend you browse it large collection of images on his Flickr account.

He is typically the kind of specialist who must have been impatiently awaiting the arrival of the JWST. She therefore hurried to reserve observation time with the astronomers’ new darling. And not surprisingly, this $10 billion telescope allowed him to produce breathtaking images.

“Ghost Galaxy” Exposed

It reveals two spiral galaxies, both relatively close to the Milky Way. The first, officially called NGC 628 or Messier 74, is better known by the nickname “Phantom Galaxy”. It owes this nickname to its relatively low luminosity, which makes it quite difficult for amateurs to observe, despite being relatively close to Earth (32 million light years).

What motivates the public to observe it is above all its presence two separate arms which forms a almost perfect spiral. For fans, it’s a spectacular sight, making it one of the most photogenic objects in the cosmos. But for researchers, it is also a first-class scientific resource.

In fact, astronomers have determined that these pendants are extremely rich in gas and dust; they are the nurseries of the starsi.e. regions of the cosmos where stars are born at breakneck speed.

The ins and outs of this process are still relatively unknown. Messier 74 is therefore a veritable open-air laboratory — it is true to say — for study the life cycle of stars.

However, this cycle is a fundamental element of the dynamics of the cosmos. Astronomers are convinced that by studying it they will be able to improve their understanding of the overall workings of our universe. And with JWST backing it up, it’s likely only a matter of time before Messier 74 begins to reveal its best-kept secrets!

A great cousin to the Milky Way

The second image revealed by Schmidt concerns NGC 7496, another galaxy even closer to 24 billion years old. Structurally, it is quite different from NGC 628. Like our good old Milky Way, it is one barred spiral galaxy. In this case, the arms do not emerge directly from the center of the spiral, but from a wide band of stars running through it.

At first glance, the cliché could almost seem disappointing; it looks surprisingly dull compared to the excellent portraits that Hubble had already taken. But for astronomers, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, far from it!

NGC 7496 seen by Hubble in early 2022. © ESA / Hubble & NASA / J. Lee / PHANGS-HST / Judy Schmidt

As a reminder, the two devices operate on very different bases. Hubble’s “eyes” are designed to capture visible light and ultraviolet radiation; JWST, on the other hand, is designed to observe iinfrared. In practice, these two images are therefore complementary; the newcomer makes it possible to observe details that its venerable predecessor was simply unable to capture.

And this collaboration will probably breathe new life into the study of NGC 7496. Because if the images of this good old Hubby was an excellent gift to the general public, it was also a source of frustration for astronomers. In fact, all these piles of gas and dust tended to hide the most interesting partnamely the central band of stars.

JWST, on the other hand, has no problem ignoring this cloud. He can therefore observe directly at the heart of this structure. Again, this is a huge star factory that scientists will be able to study from all angles.

Two more examples that clearly show the extent to which James Webb is already revolutionizing astronomy… and we are still only at the beginning of this great adventure, which may last about twenty years. So we’ll give you an appointment when the next images arrive, which shouldn’t take very long given the current production rate of the telescope!

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