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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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.
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.