The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured a stunning image of a distant barred spiral galaxy as astronomers aim to study star birth in the deepest regions of space.
As part of a mission to build the European Space Agency (ESA), JWST observed the galaxy NGC 5068, located 17 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Called a “treasure trove”. Observations of star formation in relatively nearby galaxies.
The collection will help scientists better understand star formation processes, and thus how spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way evolve.
Related: James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – A Complete Guide
Portrait of NGC 5068 showing gas and stars spread throughout the barred spiral galaxy. The galaxy’s bright, dense central bar, which sets it apart from “non-barred” spiral galaxies, can be seen in the upper left corner of the image.
These large central bars are not solid objects, but instead are made up of stars in tight clusters, and the stellar bars that galaxies like NGC 5068 possess may indicate that they are older and more evolved than non-barred spiral galaxies. Because these structures are believed to take about 2 billion years to form.
As this bar of stars spins, astronomers think it can drag gas and dust into the center of these galaxies, where it fuels intense bursts of star formation. Bar activity in NGC 5068 appears to cause stars to form in spirals. These thick clouds of gas and dust that collapse to form stars block visible light and make opaque star-forming regions difficult to study, at least in the visible-light wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Because infrared light passes unhindered through dust and gas, JWST, a powerful space telescope launched on Christmas Day 2021 and designed to see the universe in infrared, is the ideal instrument to peer through these clouds.
This image of galaxy NGC 5068, a galaxy at least 45,000 light-years across and seen face-on from Earth, was created using JWST’s two primary instruments, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and the Near-Infrared Spectrograph. (NIRSpec) both correspond to different wavelengths of infrared light.
So far, JWST has collected images of 19 relatively nearby star-forming galaxies, which astronomers can combine with a wealth of observations from other space-based telescopes and ground-based observatories to better understand star formation. These include Hubble Space Telescope images of more than 10,000 star clusters, spectroscopic mapping of nearly 20,000 clusters, observations of star-forming emission nebulae from the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and imaging of large clouds identified by 12,000 dark and dense molecular meters. /submillimeter array (ALMA).
Together, these observations give astronomers a picture across a wide spread of the electromagnetic spectrum, revealing in detail the characteristics of star formation.