James Webb Telescope inspects spiral galaxies, revealing never-before-seen details of star formation

The James Webb Space Telescope has allowed astronomers to look into spiral galaxies, where newborn stars are carving out brilliant pathways.

The space observatory, which bears the name of a North Carolinian, is able to view the universe in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. This makes the telescope specially positioned to view through the dust that, when less powerful telescopes are used, obscures some galactic features.

PHANGS, or Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies, is a group of researchers studying 19 spiral galaxies with the use of Webb's infrared capabilities.

Five of them, including galaxies M74, NGC 7496, IC 5332, NGC 1365, and NGC 1433, have so far been closely viewed by the telescope.

The galaxies were faint and black in visible light. Yet, the galactic structure may be shaped by stars and star clusters, as seen by Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument. The Webb photos' previously unseen features demonstrate how these complex networks within galaxies are impacted throughout time by star formation and evolution.

A member of the PHANGS team and associate professor of physics at the University of Alberta in Canada, Erik Rosolowsky stated, "We are directly observing how the energy from the birth of young stars impacts the gas surrounding them, and it's really incredible."

Giant bubbles of gas and dust, also known as luminous cavities, were generated by stars releasing energy. Sometimes these bubble-like features overlap to form shells and a structure resembling a spiderweb.

Adam Leroy, a PHANGS team member and professor of astronomy at Ohio State University, said in a statement that the team has spent years observing these galaxies at optical, radio, and ultraviolet wavelengths using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and the Very Large Telescope's Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer.

The early phases of a star's lifespan, however, have remained hidden from observation because they are cloaked in gas and dust clouds.

The observation program will continue to concentrate on several galaxies, compile data on star formation, and provide new information on the evolution of stars and how these celestial bodies affect the galaxies they inhabit.