NASA has released a treasure trove of more than a dozen images of galaxies taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. The photos reveal the structure and formation of these cosmic beings in “mind-blowing” new details.
The new image sequence reveals the stars, gas and cosmic dust that make up 19 nearby galaxies in exquisite detail that could enable researchers to uncover the origins of these complex structures.
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Previously, astronomers have imaged such spiral galaxies in wavelengths ranging from radio to ultraviolet light using space- and ground-based telescopes, with the galaxies visible directly opposite from Earth.
Now, using the Webb telescope, scientists have obtained the highest resolution images of these galaxies ever taken in the near and mid-infrared wavelengths.
“Webb’s new photos are extraordinary. They are mind-blowing, even for researchers who have been studying the same galaxies for decades.”
Bubble-like and filamentary structures that are part of the galaxy are resolved in the new photos down to the smallest scales ever observed, telling a story about the star formation cycle, the researchers say.
“I feel that our team lives in a constant state of amazement (in a positive sense) at the amount of detail in these images,” said Thomas Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Photographs taken by Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captured millions of stars that are part of the spiral arms of galaxies in exquisite detail, shimmering in blue hues.
Some of the stars can be seen spread out along spiral arms, while others are more tightly packed together in star clusters.
Data from the telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) revealed dust glowing in the space around and between stars, and also showed stars that have not yet fully formed.
“These are the places where we can find the newest, most massive stars in galaxies,” said Erik Rosolowsky, professor of physics at the University of Alberta in Canada.
These cosmic structures are particularly visible in the photograph of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300, located about 69 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus.
Photographs taken by the most powerful telescope ever launched into space also show large, spherical shells in the gas and dust that researchers believe were probably created by stars exploding and blowing giant holes in space.
Scientists say studying the new images could provide important insights into how galaxies build, sustain and terminate star formation
“Stars can live for billions or trillions of years,” says Adam Leroy, professor of astronomy at Ohio State University. By fully cataloging all types of stars, we can create a more reliable and holistic view of their life cycles,” says Adam Leroy, professor of astronomy at Ohio State University.