Pic of the Week: The Shining Nucleus of NGC 7496

Image (Credit): Barred spiral galaxy NGC 7496. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Janice Lee (NOIRLab), Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

This week’s image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the barred spiral galaxy NGC 7496, which is over 24 million light-years away from Earth. The glowing center is a supermassive black hole.

Here is the full story about the image from the Webb Space Telescope site:

The spiral arms of NGC 7496, one of a total of 19 galaxies targeted for study by the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) collaboration, are filled with cavernous bubbles and shells overlapping one another in this image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). These filaments and hollow cavities are evidence of young stars releasing energy and, in some cases, blowing out the gas and dust of the interstellar medium surrounding them.

Until Webb’s high resolution at infrared wavelengths came along, stars at the earliest point of the lifecycle in nearby galaxies like NGC 7496 remained obscured by gas and dust. Webb’s specific wavelength coverage allows for the detection of complex organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which play a critical role in the formation of stars and planets. In Webb’s MIRI image, these are mostly found within the main dust lanes in the spiral arms. 

In their analysis of the new data from Webb, scientists were able to identify nearly 60 new, embedded cluster candidates in NGC 7496. These newly identified clusters could be among the youngest stars in the entire galaxy. 

At the center of NGC 7496, a barred spiral galaxy, is an active galactic nucleus (AGN). AGN is another way to refer to an active supermassive black hole that is emitting jets and winds. This glows quite brightly at the center of the Webb image. Additionally, Webb’s extreme sensitivity also picks up various background galaxies, which appear green or red in some instances.