The Webb Telescope spies millions of stars in stunning spiral galaxies

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The James Webb Space Telescope has captured brilliant images of 19 galaxies Spiral galaxies — and the millions of stars they call home — in unprecedented detail that astronomers have never seen before.

Webb's unique ability to observe the universe at different infrared wavelengths, such as near-infrared and mid-infrared, exposes the stars, gas and dust within the complex structure of each galaxy.

Astronomers think so about 60% Of all galaxies, they are spiral galaxies – and our solar system is located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way. Webb's observations could help astronomers better understand star formation and the evolution of spiral galaxies like ours.

When viewed head-on, each galaxy in the new images has star-laden spiral arms. The center of each galaxy is marked by clusters of ancient stars or Supermassive black holes.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS team

The James Webb Space Telescope captured images of 19 spiral galaxies using near and mid-infrared light.

The observations were made as part of PHANGS, or High-angle resolution physics in nearby galaxies, project. More than 100 astronomers from around the world are participating in the program, which also looks at data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Space Observatory's Very Large Telescope's MUSE instrument, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.

Data from different telescopes enable astronomers to make observations across different wavelengths of visible, ultraviolet and radio light. Adding Webb's infrared insights could help address some of the monitoring gaps.

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“Webb’s new images are extraordinary,” Janice Lee, PHANGS core member and project scientist for New Missions and Strategic Initiatives at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in a statement. “It's astounding even to researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades. The bubbles and filaments are resolved to the smallest scales ever observed, and tell a story about the star formation cycle.”

Astronomers used a near-infrared webcam to observe millions of stars, which appear sparkling blue, grouped together in clusters and spread throughout the arms of the 19 galaxies as well. Meanwhile, Webb's mid-infrared instrument highlights the glowing dust surrounding the stars, as well as still-forming red stars surrounded by gas and dust that help stars grow.

“This is where we can find the newest and most massive stars in galaxies,” Eric Rozolovski, a PHANGS core member and professor of physics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said in a statement.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS team

This image shows Webb (top left) and Hubble (bottom right) observations of the galaxy NGC 4254.

The spiral arms are practically glowing with orange-red gas in web images. The images will be used to help astronomers determine the distribution of gas and dust in spiral galaxies, as well as how galaxies are fed and star formation stops.

“These structures tend to follow the same pattern in certain parts of galaxies,” Rozolovsky said. “We think of them like waves, and their spacing tells us a lot about how the galaxy distributes gas and dust.”

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Webb also captured large, spherical shell-shaped voids between galactic gas and dust, which were likely carved out by star explosions.

“These holes may have formed as a result of one or more stars that exploded, creating giant holes in the interstellar material,” Adam Leroy, PHANGS core member and professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus, said in a statement.

Astronomers believe that galaxies are formed from the inside out. Star formation begins at the center of the galaxy before rippling through the arms in a spiral. This means that a star's distance from the galactic core is proportional to its age, so younger stars are likely to be farther from the galactic core. Clusters of blue stars near the centers of each galaxy indicate older stars.

Meanwhile, some galaxies have pinkish-red bumps near their centers.

Scientists say the black hole in our galaxy is rotating rapidly and dragging space-time with it

“This is a clear sign that there may be an active supermassive black hole,” Eva Scheiner, a core member of PHANGS and a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, said in a statement. “Or the star clusters towards the center are so bright that they saturate that area of ​​the image.”

Scientists are very excited to study the huge number of stars revealed by Webb's new images, according to Leroy.

“Stars can live for billions or trillions of years,” Leroy said. “By precisely cataloging all types of stars, we can build a more reliable and comprehensive view of their life cycles.”

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