The new James Webb Space Telescope image looks more like a terrifying psychedelic vortex from a Marvel movie than the shape of a spiral galaxy familiar from visible telescopes, showing the dusty skeleton of the distant galaxy NGC 628.
“This is a galaxy that probably looks a lot like what we think our Milky Way looks like,” Gabriel Brammer, an astronomer at the Cosmic Dawn Center at the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute, who Share the photo on Twitter Monday, he said independent in an interview. “You can see all these nodes of individual stars forming, individual supernovae exploding and really study that in detail.”
The spiral arms of NGC 628 have been imaged before, but the images of the galaxy captured in visible light by the Hubble Space Telescope do not look like the purple spiral structure seen in the Webb’s mid-infrared image.
“You look at this galaxy with Hubble or with ground-based telescopes, you see blue stars, red stars, you see spiral arms, you see dust lanes,” Dr. Brammer said.
Those dust lanes, he said, reddish-brown filaments in the spiral arms tend to obscure the stars in visible images taken by Webb and other telescopes.
“In the mid-infrared, what you actually see is kind of the opposite, where that dust is no longer absorbed; we are actually directly observing that the same dust is now glowing, because the dust itself is emitting it,” Dr. Brammer said. We actually see an image of gas and dust in this galaxy, rather than stars.”
Webb captured the image of NGC 628 on July 17 and returned it to Earth where it was recorded in Barbara Mikulsky Archives for Space Telescopes, (MAST), where the data is available to anyone, including the public. Dr. Brammer actually studies very distant galaxies in his own work rather than relatively nearby galaxies like NGC 628, but when he saw the raw image in the data Monday morning, he knew he wanted to colorize and share the image.
“It was really the first thing that showed up,” he said. “It really amazed me as soon as I opened it on my screen.”
While NASA has created a masterpiece by revealing the first five full-color images from Webb on July 12The telescope hasn’t stood idle since then, and continues to take pictures and put them in the MAST archive, according to Dr. Brammer. For astronomers who have waited more than 20 years for a chance to see what Webb can do, these are very exciting times.
“We’ve been waiting for Webb in some cases for decades now, and we’ve all been not sleeping much over the past week and kind of looking at as many different Webb images as possible,” Dr. Brammer said. “Everything is really amazing.”
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