Jan 29

NASA’s Webb Depicts Staggering Structure in 19 Nearby Spiral Galaxies

Nineteen Webb images of face-on spiral galaxies are combined in a mosaic. Some appear within squares, and others horizontal or vertical rectangles. Many galaxies have blue hazes toward the centers, and all have orange spiral arms. Many have clear bar shaped-structures at their centers, but a few have spirals that begin at their cores. Some of the galaxies' arms form clear spiral shapes, while others are more irregular. Some of the galaxies’ arms appear to rotate clockwise and others counterclockwise. Most galaxy cores are centered, but a few appear toward an image’s edge. Most galaxies appear to extend beyond the captured observations. The galaxies shown, listed in alphabetical order, are IC 5332, NGC 628, NGC 1087, NGC 1300, NGC 1365, NGC 1385, NGC 1433, NGC 1512, NGC 1566, NGC 1672, NGC 2835, NGC 3351, NGC 3627, NGC 4254, NGC 4303, NGC 4321, NGC 4535, NGC 5068, and NGC 7496.
This collection of 19 face-on spiral galaxies from the James Webb Space Telescope in near- and mid-infrared light is at once overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Credits: Image NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team Designer Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)

It’s oh-so-easy to be absolutely mesmerized by these spiral galaxies. Follow their clearly defined arms, which are brimming with stars, to their centers, where there may be old star clusters and – sometimes – active supermassive black holes. Only NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope can deliver highly detailed scenes of nearby galaxies in a combination of near- and mid-infrared light – and a set of these images was publicly released today.

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 European Southern Observatory’s 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.

“Webb’s new images are extraordinary,” said Janice Lee, a project scientist for strategic initiatives at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “They’re mind-blowing even for researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades. Bubbles and filaments are resolved down to the smallest scales ever observed, and tell a story about the star formation cycle.”

Excitement rapidly spread throughout the team as the Webb images flooded in. “I feel like our team lives in a constant state of being overwhelmed – in a positive way – by the amount of detail in these images,” added Thomas Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Read more on the Webb Telescope site.