TechNASA's James Webb Telescope unveils stunning new images of face-on spiral galaxies

NASA's James Webb Telescope unveils stunning new images of face-on spiral galaxies

Collage of galaxies photographed by the James Webb Space Telescope
Collage of galaxies photographed by the James Webb Space Telescope
Images source: © NASA
4:29 PM EST, January 29, 2024

Astronomers have been collecting data on galaxies visible in our sky for decades. These images were collected by both space and ground-based telescopes, spanning radio waves to ultraviolet. Naturally, the picture quality varied, but the Webb Telescope captured these incredible stellar landscapes with an unparalleled quality in near and mid-infrared. NASA is now sharing images of 19 galaxies our telescopes face directly.

Comparison with Hubble images

In addition to the new images, NASA published a series of montages highlighting the differences between images taken by the Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes. Scientists across the globe are currently analyzing these photos to understand the phenomenal celestial structures.

Images of nearby galaxies taken by Hubble and now also by Webb are part of an extensive, long-term project dubbed PHANGS (Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby GalaxieS). Astronomers participating in this project are excited about the precision with which Webb’s images capture the minutest elements of distant structures - such as filaments and bubbles spotted in spiral arms.

The capability of Webb’s infrared camera

Webb's NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) has succeeded in capturing images of millions of stars, with some scattered across spiral arms and some clustered into star groups. Concurrently, MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) has revealed glowing dust, indicating where it is between and around stars. This knowledge allows us to locate stars that are not yet fully formed.

  • Spiral galaxy NGC 628 (Webb on the left, Hubble on the right)
  • Spiral Galaxy NGC 1433 (Webb on the left, Hubble on the right)
  • Spiral Galaxy NGC 1385 (Webb on the left, Hubble on the right)
  • All 19 observed galaxies
[1/4] Spiral galaxy NGC 628 (Webb on the left, Hubble on the right)Images source: © PHANGS

We can also clearly see large spherical holes in the gas and dust, which could have been created by the explosion of one or more stars. Based on research, it appears galaxies expand outward from the center of their masses, implying star births occur in dense areas near the center, from where stars then migrate outward along the arms.

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