Staggering structure in 19 nearby spiral galaxies | Science & Technology

It’s oh-so-easy to be absolutely mesmerized by these spiral galaxies. Follow their clearly defined arms, which are brimming with stars, to their centers, where there may be old star clusters and — sometimes — active supermassive black holes. Only NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope can deliver highly detailed scenes of nearby galaxies in a combination of near- and mid-infrared light — and a set of these images was publicly released today.

These Webb images are part of a large, long-standing project, the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program, which is supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide. Before Webb took these images, PHANGS was already brimming with data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope’s Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, including observations in ultraviolet, visible, and radio light. Webb’s near- and mid-infrared contributions have provided several new puzzle pieces.

“Webb’s new images are extraordinary,” said Janice Lee, a project scientist for strategic initiatives at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “They’re mind-blowing even for researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades. Bubbles and filaments are resolved down to the smallest scales ever observed, and tell a story about the star formation cycle.”

Excitement rapidly spread throughout the team as the Webb images flooded in. “I feel like our team lives in a constant state of being overwhelmed — in a positive way — by the amount of detail in these images,” added Thomas Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Follow the Spiral Arms

It’s oh-so-easy to be absolutely mesmerized by these spiral galaxies. Follow their clearly defined arms, which are brimming with stars, to their centers, where there may be old star clusters and — sometimes — active supermassive black holes. Only NASA’s James Webb…

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