James Webb captures detailed image of star birth in barred spiral galaxy

"Webb's dual vision is helping us to see star-forming regions as never before."
Chris Young
The image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068.
The image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068.

ESA / Webb / NASA & CSA / J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team 

A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope captures the fiery, star-forming central region of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068 in impressive detail thanks to the observatory's two main imaging instruments.

NGC 5068, located roughly 20 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo, is one of the latest targets in Webb's mission to catalog and analyze stellar nurseries like never before.

James Webb uncovers another stellar nursery

The new James Webb image is a composite of two separate observations taken with the observatory's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The NIRCam image highlights the foreground stars, while the MIRI image reveals the dusty structure of the galaxy.

The bright white section in the top left of the image shows the characteristic bright central bar of the barred spiral galaxy. The bar in this context refers to a line of stars at this type of galaxy's core.

In a blog post on its website, NASA pointed out that the new image is "part of a campaign to create an astronomical treasure trove, a repository of observations of star formation in nearby galaxies."

The new observations will help us to better understand the evolution of the cosmos, the U.S. space agency continued.

It is one of several recent new observations by Webb, including images of 18 other star-forming galaxies. These, in turn, are being combined with existing data on more than 40,000-star clusters, nebulae, and molecular clouds captured by the Very Large Telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Together, they are helping to provide the most comprehensive and detailed catalog of young stars ever compiled, thanks to the Webb telescope's unmatched capacity for peering behind dust clouds with its infrared imagers.

Webb continues to peer into the ancient past

James Webb launched in December 2021 and has been performing science operations since July 2022.

Less than a year into what is expected to be a roughly 10-year mission, the $10 billion space observatory has wowed us with its wealth of new imagery. Not only has it been able to observe young stars behind shrouds of cosmic dust, but it has also peered further into the past than ever before, revealing the oldest and most distant galaxies ever seen.

Some of these galaxies are more evolved than would be expected at such an early era of the universe, meaning Webb has already fundamentally altered our understanding of the cosmos.

James Webb captures detailed image of star birth in barred spiral galaxy
Another image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, captured by Webb's NIRCam instrument.

Its first scientific image was presented to the world on July 11, an image that showed the world a patch of the sky known as SMACS 0723.

According to NASA, it was the "deepest, sharpest infrared view of the universe to date," and it includes galaxies that are more than 13 billion years old. Have a look at some of Webb's most remarkable images so far.

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