Looking more like a terrifying psychedelic vortex from a Marvel movie than the spiral galaxy shape familiar from visual telescopes, the new James Webb Space Telescope image shows the dusty skeleton of distant galaxy NGC 628.
“This is a galaxy that we think looks very similar to our own Milky Way,” said Gabriel Brammer, an astronomer at the Cosmic Dawn Center of the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen shared the picture on Twitter Monday, told The Independent in an interview. “You can see all these knots of individual stars forming, individual supernovae going off, and really study that in detail.”
NGC 628’s spiral arms have been imaged previously, but the Hubble Space Telescope’s visible-light images of the galaxy look nothing like the purple spiral structure seen in Webb’s mid-infrared image.
“They look at this galaxy with Hubble or with ground-based telescopes,” said Dr. Brammer, “You see blue stars, you see red stars, you see spiral arms, you see dust lanes.”
Those dust lanes, he said, reddish-brown filaments in the spiral arms tend to block stars in the visible images taken by Webb and other telescopes.
“In the mid-infrared, you actually see the opposite of that, where this dust isn’t absorbing anymore; we’re actually directly observing this dust itself, which is now glowing because the dust itself is emitting,” said Dr. brammer “We are actually seeing an image of the gas and dust in this galaxy and not the stars.”
Webb captured the image of NGC 628 on July 17 and beamed it back to Earth, where it was stored at the Barbara Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST), where the data is available to everyone, including the public. dr Brammer studies very distant galaxies in his own work rather than relatively close galaxies like NGC 628, but when he saw the raw image in the data Monday morning, he knew he wanted to color-process the image and share it.
“It was really the first thing that came out,” he said. “It really blew me away when I opened it up on my screen.”
While Nasa made a major showpiece from the July 12 unveiling of the first five full-color Webb images, the telescope has barely stood still since then, continuously taking and posting images, according to Dr. Brammer in the MAST archive. These are extremely exciting times for astronomers who have waited more than 20 years to see what Webb can do.”
“In some cases, we’ve been waiting for Webb for decades, and all of us haven’t slept much in the last week looking at as many different Webb pictures as we can,” said Dr. brammer “It’s just all really spectacular.”