NGC 5486 hangs against a background of dim, distant galaxies in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The tenuous disc of the galaxy is threaded through with pink wisps of star formation, which stand out from the diffuse glow of the galaxy’s bright core. While this particular galaxy has indistinct, meandering spiral arms it lies close to the much larger Pinwheel Galaxy, one of the best known examples of ‘grand design’ spiral galaxies with prominent and well-defined spiral arms. In 2006 Hubble captured an image of the Pinwheel Galaxy which was — at the time — the largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy ever taken with Hubble.
NGC 5486 lies 110 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major. This observation comes from a selection of Hubble images exploring debris left behind by Type II supernovae. As massive stars reach the end of their lives, they cast off huge amounts of gas and dust before ending their lives in titanic supernova explosions. NGC 5486 hosted a supernova in 2004, and astronomers used the keen vision of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys to explore the aftermath in the hopes of learning more about these explosive events.
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.
This week’s image shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule awaiting the launch of the Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station. The rocket launched at 12:34 a.m. EST today from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. You can read more about the successful launch here.
Detail of the globular cluster M92 captured by Webb’s NIRCam instrument. This field of view covers the lower left quarter of the right half of the full image. Globular clusters are dense masses of tightly packed stars that all formed around the same time. In M92, there are about 300,000 stars packed into a ball about 100 light-years across. The night sky of a planet in the middle of M92 would shine with thousands of stars that appear thousands of times brighter than those in our own sky. The image shows stars at different distances from the center, which helps astronomers understand the motion of stars in the cluster, and the physics of that motion
This week’s image is from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It shows a spiral galaxy that appears much like our own (bottom center), though this one is a billion light-years away. Do occupants of that galaxy also see us? Good luck communicating when it will take 2 billion years to receive a response to a message you just sent out.
Here is the full story from the European Space Agency (ESA), which posted this as its Picture of the Month just last month:
A crowded field of galaxies throngs this Picture of the Month from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, along with bright stars crowned with Webb’s signature six-pointed diffraction spikes. The large spiral galaxy at the base of this image is accompanied by a profusion of smaller, more distant galaxies which range from fully-fledged spirals to mere bright smudges. Named LEDA 2046648, it is situated a little over a billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation Hercules.
One of Webb’s principle science goals is to observe distant galaxies in the early universe to understand the details of their formation, evolution, and composition. Webb’s keen infrared vision helps the telescope peer back in time, as the light from these distant galaxies is redshifted towards infrared wavelengths. Comparing these systems with galaxies in the local universe will help astronomers understand how galaxies grew to form the structure we see today. Webb will also probe the chemical composition of thousands of galaxies to shed light on how heavy elements were formed and built up as galaxies evolved.