The first series of JWST images weren’t enough for you? Here are new sumptuous shots of a pair of galaxies!
Nothing can stop the James Webb Space Telescope! The machine only officially came into operation very recently, but it is already bombarding researchers with scientific data of remarkable precision. For the general public, it’s also a golden opportunity to revel in a bunch of gorgeous images, and there are new items on the menu! After the most distant image ever captured in infrared, then Stephan’s Quintet, Carina Nebula and Southern Ring Nebula (see our article), astronomer Judy Schmidt presents today a new series of incredible images.
The interested party is a licensed galaxy hunter who has spent most of her career scrutinizing these cosmic structures. Over the years, it has built up a vast database by stringing together hundreds of hours of observation with some of the most efficient telescopes in the world. We also strongly recommend that you browse its great collection of pictures on his Flickr account.
He is typically the kind of specialist who must have been impatiently awaiting the arrival of the JWST. She therefore hastened to reserve observation time with the new darling of astronomers. And unsurprisingly, this $10 billion telescope allowed him to produce breathtaking images.
The “Ghost Galaxy” laid bare
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 the fact that it is relatively close to the Earth (32 million light-years).
What motivates the public to observe it is above all the presence of its two separate arms which form a near-perfect spiral. For fans, it’s a spectacular sight that makes it one of the most photogenic objects in the cosmos. But for researchers, it is also a first-class scientific resource.
Indeed, astronomers have determined that these extremely gas- and dust-rich appendages were also stellar nurseriesi.e. regions of the cosmos where stars are being born at a maddening rate.
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 the JWST backing it up, it’s probably only a matter of time before Messier 74 starts revealing its best-kept secrets!
A superb cousin of the Milky Way
The other image unveiled by Schmidt concerns NGC 7496, another galaxy located even closer, 24 million light-years away. Structurally speaking, it is quite different from NGC 628. Like our good old Milky Way, it is a 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 superb portraits that Hubble had already made. But for astronomers, this does not mean that there is nothing to see, far from it!
As a reminder, the two devices operate on very different bases. Hubble’s “eyes” are designed to capture visible light and ultraviolet radiation; the JWST, on the other hand, is designed to observe in theinfrared. In practice, these two images are therefore complementary; the newcomer makes it possible to observe details that its venerable predecessor was simply not able to capture.
And this cooperation will probably breathe new life into the study of NGC 7496. Because if the photos of this good old Hubbie were a superb gift for the general public, it was also a source of frustration for astronomers. Indeed, all these piles of gas and dust tended to hide the most interesting partnamely the central band of stars.
The JWST, on the other hand, has no trouble ignoring this cloud. He can therefore observe directly at the heart of this structure. Again, this is a huge star factory that researchers will be able to study from every angle.
Two additional examples which clearly show the extent to which the James Webb is already revolutionizing astronomy… and we are still only at the dawn of this great adventure which could last around 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!