Behold the latest James Webb photos of 19 nearby spiral galaxies in glorious detail
The James Webb Space Telescope has left us speechless once again. It has unveiled a stunning treasure trove of images showing 19 nearby spiral galaxies in exquisite detail. These near- and mid-infrared portraits provide the sharpest views of stars, gas, and dust beyond our Milky Way. They offer astronomers a front-row seat to the inner workings of these cosmic structures – and allow us to admire the beauty of the cosmos.
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Each of the 19 galaxies in the Webb images shows clearly defined spiral arms, ablaze with stars, leading inwards to their central regions. These cores may harbor old star clusters and, in some cases, even active supermassive black holes. Only Webb’s unique combination of near- and mid-infrared capabilities can deliver such intricate and detailed scenes of nearby galaxies.
The Webb images are part of a large ongoing project, the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program, involving over 150 astronomers worldwide. Before Webb’s contributions, PHANGS had already gathered extensive data from telescopes like Hubble, VLT’s MUSE, and ALMA, covering ultraviolet, visible, and radio wavelengths. Webb’s near- and mid-infrared observations have now added crucial new pieces to this cosmic puzzle.
What can you see in these Webb Telescope images?
Webb’s NIRCam instrument (Near-Infrared Camera) has captured millions of stars in these images, sparkling like blue diamonds across the galactic tapestry. Some stars are scattered throughout the spiral arms, while others huddle together in dense star clusters. Meanwhile, Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) sheds light on the glowing dust, revealing its presence behind, around, and between stars. It also spotlights young stars still cloaked in their dusty nurseries, glowing like faint red embers amidst the cosmic peaks.
To the astronomers’ delight, Webb’s images even showcase vast, spherical shells of gas and dust, potentially forged by the colossal explosions of massive stars. The extended, red-tinged regions of gas within the spiral arms offer further insights into how galaxies distribute gas and dust, influencing star formation processes.
The observations provide strong evidence that galaxies grow from the inside out. The stars’ formation begins at the galaxy’s center and moves outward along the spiral arms. The younger stars are farther from the center, while the older stars are closer to the galaxy’s heart, emitting a blue glow. The pink and red hues around some galactic cores may indicate the presence of active supermassive black holes or densely packed star clusters that emit intense light.
In addition to releasing these wonderful images, the PHANGS team has also released the largest catalogue of roughly 100,000 star clusters to date. “The amount of analysis that can be done with these images is vastly larger than anything our team could possibly handle,” said Erik Rosolowsky, a professor of physics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. “We’re excited to support the community so all researchers can contribute.”
Take a look at the remaining images below. While you’re at it, you can also enjoy this ethereal sonification of two galaxies interacting. You will find more information on ESA’s website.
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.