The James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) has been used to capture a gorgeous and mesmerizing photo of the heart of galaxy M74, also known as the Phantom Galaxy.
The Phantom Galaxy is about 32-million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces, the European Space Agency (ESA) explains. The galaxy is almost directly in front of Earth. This, combined with the well-defined spiral, makes it an attractive target for those astronomers who study galactic spiral structures.
“Webb’s sharp vision has revealed delicate filaments of gas and dust in the grandiose spiral arms which wind outwards from the center of this image,” the ESA writes.
” The absence of gas in this region allows for a clear view of the central nuclear star cluster. M74 is a particular class of spiral galaxy known as a ‘grand design spiral’, meaning that its spiral arms are prominent and well-defined, unlike the patchy and ragged structure seen in some spiral galaxies.”
Scientists used the JWST’s MIRI camera to capture the Phantom Galaxy so they could learn more about the earliest phases of star formation in the universe, which the ESA says is part of a larger effort to chart 19 nearby star-forming galaxies in the infrared.
“M74 shines at its brightest in this combined optical/mid-infrared image,” the ESA explains. This new image is remarkable in depth thanks to Hubble’s venerable Advanced Camera for Surveys and Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument, (MIRI), which captures a wide range of wavelengths.
“The red colors mark dust threaded through the arms of the galaxy, lighter oranges being areas of hotter dust. The young stars throughout the arms and the nuclear core are picked out in blue. The older, more powerful stars in the center of the galaxy are highlighted in green and cyan. This glow is emitted from the Phantom Galaxy’s core. Pink is also used to show the bubbles of star-formation that are visible across arms. It is not common to find such a wide range of galactic features in one image. Scientists combine data from telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum to truly understand astronomical objects.”
These galaxies have already been observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, but the JWST’s higher-resolution and shaper camera system as well as its ability to capture images at longer wavelengths will provide the international PHANGS collaboration scientists with additional insights into star-forming regions such as the Phantom Galaxy.
Below is a comparison of three images, one that is the Hubble Optical capture, one that is a combination of Hubble and the JWST, and finally one that is simply JWST:
The Webb image was processed by citizen scientist Judy Scmidt, who has worked with Hubble and other telescope data as a hobby for 10 years. She was also recently responsible for the processing of the image the JWST took of Jupiter.
Image credits: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team. Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt