James Webb Telescope drops another out-of-this-world photo of distant spiral galaxy

Image of the M51 galaxy from the James Webb Telescope
A large spiral galaxy takes up the entirety of the image. The core is mostly bright white, but there are also swirling, detailed structures that resemble water circling a drain. There is white and pale blue light that emanates from stars and dust at the core’s centre, but it is tightly limited to the core. The detailed rings feature bands of deep orange and cloudy grey, which are interspersed by darker empty regions throughout. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

Another awe-inspiring magical image of deep space has been captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Released on August 29, the latest high-resolution photo shows us a glimpse of a spiral galaxy that is found 27 million light years away from Earth in the Canes Venatici constellation.

Known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, or Messier 51a, it has been a central focal point for astronomers and astrophotographers for years (it was first discovered in 1773) but has never before has it been viewed in such fine detail. 

The most recent image shows a red whirlpool galaxy with protruding spirals and a bright bluish-white core. While you might not be able to get such a high resolution even with the best cameras for astrophotography, this bedazzling galaxy is sometimes visible from Earth.

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Image of the M51 spiral galaxy taken using the Near-Infrared Camera (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

Taken using the JWST main near-infrared camera (NIRcam) and a mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), the two separate photos have been combined into a composite to create a truly out-of-this-world galactic portrait. These incredibly advanced camera systems capture the infrared light that the eye cannot see and decode the data to create images scientists can study to unlock the secrets of our universe. It’s thought that the shape of M51 is due to its close proximity to the nearby dwarf galaxy NGC 5195 and its spiraling arms are formed through its strong gravitational influence. 

Up until now, the clearest image we had of the M51 galaxy was taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2011 but it was nowhere near as in-depth and detailed as the JWST offering. The actual image has been colorized so we can distinguish areas of ionized gas created by recently formed star clusters (the orange and yellow buts) while the darker areas represent empty cavities necessary for the galaxy to maintain its spiral shape. 

Image of the M51 spiral galaxy taken with the Mid-Infrared instrument (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

This latest image is part of a body of research known as Feedback in Emerteging Extragalactic Star Clusters or for east, FEAST. Since the James Webb telescope is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope, it enables scientists and astronomers to discover even more about deep space. The European Space Agency commented, “Webb is opening a new window into the early stages of star formation and stellar light as well as the energy of reprocessing gas and dust”.

Not only do these images enable us to develop a deeper understanding, but they are signs that the instruments onboard the JWST are still fully functional following some concern there have been some technical issues. While the NIRcam image and the MIRI image offer two different perspectives of the same galaxy, the combined composite offers exaggerates the remarkable wonders of this “grand spiral staircase sweeping through space” - a term that NASA has used to describe it. 

Image of M51 galaxy taken by James Webb telescope

A composite image combining both the NIRcam and MIRI photos (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

Also check out the best telescopes for kids or the best telescopes for beginners

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.