A citizen scientist uncovered latest James Webb images of a sublime spiral galaxy

A citizen scientist uncovered the latest stunning James Webb images from public data.
Chris Young
James Webb's image of NGC 628.Judy Schmidt

It's only been about a week since NASA's James Webb (JWST) started science operations, but the great infrared observatory has already released a wealth of new images.

Some of the latest images were actually shared, not by NASA, but by a citizen scientist called Judy Schmidt, who went through raw public data to find new images. Schmidt has been processing raw data into science images for years, according to a ScienceAlert report

James Webb's images reveal stunning new detail

Thanks to her, the world has now seen James Webb's first images of NGC 628, also known as the Phantom Galaxy, and NGC 7496. 

The new James Webb data forms a part of its contribution to the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) survey. PHANGS's mission is to investigate the link between young stars and the molecular gas clouds from which they originate.

NGC 628 (pictured above) is located approximately 32 million light-years away from Earth, which is very close when compared to James Webb's other recent observation of a 13.5 billion-year-old galaxy. NGC 628 is a "grand design" spiral galaxy rich in a type of gas that is prominent in star-forming regions.

A citizen scientist uncovered latest James Webb images of a sublime spiral galaxy
The barred spiral galaxy NGC 7469, as captured by James Webb. Source: Judy Schmidt

NGC 7469, meanwhile, is located 24 million light-years away and it is a barred spiral galaxy. Its spiral arms extend from a distinct bar that crosses the center of the galaxy. These types of galaxies are thought to be ripe for star formation.

James Webb versus Hubble

Interestingly, James Webb's and Hubble's images of the galaxies are complimentary. Hubble's images, though less sharp, aren't an out-and-out downgrade.

That's because Hubble is primarily an optical and ultraviolet observatory, while James Webb operates in infrared. This means that Hubble is better at observing the star-forming gas of these galaxies, while James Webb is incredibly adept at peering through gas clouds to the stars hidden behind.

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A citizen scientist uncovered latest James Webb images of a sublime spiral galaxy
JWST's image of the Carina nebula (top) and a Hubble composite (bottom). Source: NASA/Twitter

This is particularly prevalent in the James Webb images, revealed last week, of the baby stars behind the "Cosmic Cliffs" of the Carina nebula. Once again, compared to Hubble, it's clear to see that James Webb is capable of peering through massive cosmic curtains to the starlight that would otherwise be hidden.

In the new images, it is clear to see that the $10 billion James Webb telescope is able to cut through much of the dust that got in Hubble's way, showing unprecedented new detail. James Webb has ushered in a bold new era of astronomy, and it's only just finished its first week of scientific observations. Over the next few years, Webb is expected to continue to shed new light on some of the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.

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