James Webb Space Telescope captures intrinsic structures of 19 face-on spiral galaxies

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured the intrinsic structures of 19 face-on spiral galaxies in near- and mid-infrared light.

A collection of 19 nearby face-on spiral galaxies captured by the James Webb Space Telescope
A collection of 19 nearby face-on spiral galaxies captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. Lee (STScI), T. Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team, E. Wheatley (STScI))

These spiral galaxies were observed as a part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program, which is supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide.

It’s a large, long-standing project to study the star formation across the nearby spiral galaxies through several space- and ground-based telescopes, like the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), and the Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) of the James Webb Space Telescope has captured millions of stars in the galaxies that appear blue.

Another camera of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), has observed glowing dust appear in shades of red and orange around and between stars. Stars that haven’t yet fully formed and are encased in gas and dust appear as bright red spots.

Spherical shells in the gas and dust of the spiral galaxy NGC 628
Spherical shells in the gas and dust of the spiral galaxy NGC 628. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. Lee (STScI), T. Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team)

Webb’s high-resolution images show large, spherical shells in the gas and dust that may have been created by exploded stars.

Pink diffraction spikes in the core of galaxy NGC 1365
Pink diffraction spikes in the core of galaxy NGC 1365. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. Lee (STScI), T. Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team)

The eye-catching pink-and-red diffraction spikes are also seen in the centers of some galaxies. This indicates that these galaxies may have central active supermassive black holes or central star clusters.

Please remember that star formation in galaxies begins in their core first and then spreads out along their arms. The farther a star is from the galaxy’s core, the more likely it is to be younger.

“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.”

The full catalog of 19 face-on spiral galaxies captured by the James Webb Space Telescope is available here.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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