30th Jan 2023 – Today, NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope released a set of stunning images of near and mid-infrared portraits of 19 face-on spiral galaxies.
These show details in the structure in the spiral arms of these galaxies in never seen before detail, taken in near- and mid-infrared light with the JWST. The telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) captured millions of stars in these images, while its telescope’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) camera shows the dust lit up by the stars in and around the dust clouds. (In astro photos, area of interstellar dust and gas that can stretch for many light years are not visible themselves. They need to be illuminated by surrounding star light or absorb energy from nearby stars to emit light of their own.)
Images via: Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) programme
Another feature that amazed astronomers were circles of dust that appear to have been blown apart by exploding stars!
It’s also been found that star formation initially takes place in the centre of a galaxy, with younger stars being found in the the out spiral arms. If you look at these images, the galaxies that have a bright blue central region are where older populations of stars, and the ones that look like they have a pink or red central area regions with “spikes” in the image either have a super massive black hole or a lit up by numerous central star clusters.
A JWT image of NGC1512, a double barred galaxy in the far southern skies and popular target for amateur astronomers. The blueish central region of the galaxy highlights populations of older stars.
These images were released today by the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program, which is supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide.
The PHANGS program is working on a number of other projects using data from JSWT, but have already released the largest catalogue ever of star clusters – over 100,000 so far. Another example of just how much science the JSWT is producing in addition to wonderful images that continue to stun the world!