March 29, 2023

The James Webb Space Telescope reveals new images of the early universe

(NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Lee (NOIRLab), A. Pagan (STScI))

  • James Webb is able to give a clearer and brighter view of distant points;

  • Imaging is used in more than 20 studies;

  • Galaxies such as M74, NGC 7496, IC 5332, NGC 1365 and NGC 1433 have been observed.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has given astronomers an unprecedented look at the beginnings of stars and galaxies. The new images reveal the complex structure of the vast nearby galaxies. In addition to being another amazing image for the space telescope, it could help scientists understand how new stars form and how they affect the galaxies in which they are born.

Scientists have already used the new data for 21 papers that shed light on processes in our universe, from the very small to the very large, covering everything from the beginnings of stars to galaxies.

The work is being led by the High-Resolution Physics in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) team, which includes more than 100 researchers from around the world. They’re using Webb as part of a large survey of 19 nearby galaxies.

So far, astronomers have spotted five such targets: the galaxies known as M74, NGC 7496, IC 5332, NGC 1365, and NGC 1433.

“The clarity with which we are seeing the fine structure definitely surprised us,” said team member David Thelker of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

“We’re seeing first-hand how the energy of formation of young stars affects the gas around them, and it’s fascinating,” said team member Eric Rosolowski of the University of Alberta in Canada.

The fine detail of the James Webb Space Telescope means that areas that were previously dark are now illuminated, and scientists can study areas that were previously invisible. Researchers can now observe how interstellar dust absorbs light and sends it back into the infrared, which illuminates swirling webs of gas and dust.

“Thanks to the telescope’s resolution, for the first time we can take a complete census of star formation and make inventories of interstellar intermediate bubble structures in nearby galaxies outside the Local Group,” said Janice Lee, chief scientist at the Gemini Observatory at the Gemini Observatory. NOIRL National Laboratory of the Science Foundation and an astronomer of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who is leading the work.

“This statistic will help us understand how stars form and the reactions to their impact in the interstellar medium give rise to the next generation of stars, or how this actually prevents the next generation of stars from forming.”