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Latest Webb Telescope images gives a look at stars being born in the Virgo constellation | Engadget

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It seems like every few weeks, NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) drop an impressive image from the James Webb Space Telescope that is both stunning to behold and advances our knowledge of the universe. The latest is of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, called a “barred” galaxy because of the bright central bar you can see in the upper left of the above image. It’s a combination image consisting of infrared shots taken from the telescope’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) sensors. 

What those sensors captured is a galaxy in the Virgo constellation about 20 million light-years from Earth, and because the JWST can see through the dust and gas that surrounds stars as they’re born, the instrument is particularly suited to producing images that show the process of star formation.

Looking at the two individual images that make up the composite reveals different layers of the galaxy. As Gizmodo notes, the image produced by the MIRI sensor provides a view of the galaxy’s structure and the glowing gas bubbles that represent newly formed stars.

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A delicate tracery of dust and bright star clusters threads across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. In this image, from Webb’s MIRI instrument, the dusty structure of the spiral galaxy and glowing bubbles of gas containing newly-formed star clusters are particularly prominent. These bright tendrils of gas belong to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, located around 17 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. This portrait of NGC 5068 is part of a campaign to create an astronomical treasure trove, a repository of observations of star formation in nearby galaxies. Previous gems from this collection can be seen here and here. These observations are particularly valuable to astronomers for two reasons. The first is because star formation underpins so many fields in astronomy, from the physics of the tenuous plasma that lies between stars to the evolution of entire galaxies. By observing the formation of stars in nearby galaxies, astronomers hope to kick-start major scientific advances with some of the first available data from Webb. The second reason is that Webb’s observations build on other studies using telescopes including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and some of the world’s most capable ground-based observatories. Webb collected images of 19 nearby star-forming galaxies which astronomers could then combine with catalogues from Hubble of 10 000 star clusters, spectroscopic mapping of 20 000 star-forming emission nebulae from the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and observations of 12 000 dark, dense molecular clouds identified by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). These observations span the electromagnetic spectrum and give astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to piece together the minutiae of star formation. Three asteroid trails intrude into this image, visible as tiny blue-green-red dots. Asteroids appear in astronomical images such as these because they are much closer to the telescope than the distant target. As Webb captures several images of the astronomical object, the asteroid moves, so it shows up in a slightly different place in each frame. They are a little more noticeable in images such as this one from MIRI, because many stars are not as bright in mid-infrared wavelengths as they are in near-infrared or visible light, so asteroids are easier to see next to the stars. One trail lies just below the galaxy’s bar, and two more in the bottom-left corner - can you spot them? [Image description: A close-in image of a spiral galaxy, showing its core and part of a spiral arm. A few bright stars are visible throughout it, concentrated in the barred core. Clumps and filaments of dust thread through it, forming an almost skeletal structure that follows the twist of the galaxy and its spiral arm. Large, glowing bubbles of red gas are hidden in the dust.] Links NGC 5068 (MIRI+NIRCam image) NGC 5068 (NIRCam image) Slider Tool (MIRI and NIRCam images) Video: Pan of NGC 5068 Video: Webb's views of NGC 5068 (MIRI and NIRCam images) Video: Zoom into NGC 5068

ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and

The second image, taken from the NIRCam, put the focus on a huge swath of stars in the foreground. The composite, meanwhile, shows both the enormous amount of stars in the region as well as the highlights of the stars that have just been “born.”

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A delicate tracery of dust and bright star clusters threads across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. This view from Webb’s NIRCam instrument is studded by the galaxy’s massive population of stars, most dense along its bright central bar, along with burning red clouds of gas illuminated by young stars within. These glittering stars belong to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, located around 17 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. This portrait of NGC 5068 is part of a campaign to create an astronomical treasure trove, a repository of observations of star formation in nearby galaxies. Previous gems from this collection can be seen here and here. These observations are particularly valuable to astronomers for two reasons. The first is because star formation underpins so many fields in astronomy, from the physics of the tenuous plasma that lies between stars to the evolution of entire galaxies. By observing the formation of stars in nearby galaxies, astronomers hope to kick-start major scientific advances with some of the first available data from Webb. The second reason is that Webb’s observations build on other studies using telescopes including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and some of the world’s most capable ground-based observatories. Webb collected images of 19 nearby star-forming galaxies which astronomers could then combine with catalogues from Hubble of 10 000 star clusters, spectroscopic mapping of 20 000 star-forming emission nebulae from the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and observations of 12 000 dark, dense molecular clouds identified by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). These observations span the electromagnetic spectrum and give astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to piece together the minutiae of star formation. This near-infrared image of the galaxy is filled by the enormous gathering of older stars which make up the core of NGC 5068. The keen vision of NIRCam allows astronomers to peer through the galaxy’s gas and dust to closely examine its stars. Dense and bright clouds of dust lie along the path of the spiral arms: these are H II regions, collections of hydrogen gas where new stars are forming. The young, energetic stars ionise the hydrogen around them which, when combined with hot dust emission, creates this reddish glow. H II regions form a fascinating target for astronomers, and Webb’s instruments are the perfect tools to examine them, resulting in this image. [Image Description: A close-in image of a spiral galaxy, showing its core and part of a spiral arm. At this distance thousands upon thousands of tiny stars that make up the galaxy can be seen. The stars are most dense in a whitish bar that forms the core, and less dense out from that towards the arm. Bright red gas clouds follow the twist of the galaxy and the spiral arm.] Links NGC 5068 (NIRCam+MIRI Image) NGC 5068 (MIRI Image) Slider Tool (MIRI and NIRCam images) Video: Pan of NGC 5068 Video: Webb's views of NGC 5068 (MIRI and NIRCam images) Video: Zoom into NGC 5068

ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and

There isn’t one specific breakthrough finding in this image; instead, NASA notes that this is part of a wider effort to collect as many images of star formation from nearby galaxies as it can. (No, 20 million light-years doesn’t exactly feel nearby to me, either, but that’s how things go in space.) NASA pointed to another few images as other “gems” from its collection of star births, including this impressive “Phantom Galaxy” that was shown off last summer. As for what the agency hopes to learn? Simply that star formation “underpins so many fields in astronomy, from the physics of the tenuous plasma that lies between stars to the evolution of entire galaxies.” NASA goes on to say that it hopes the data being gathered of galaxies like NGC 5068 can help to “kick-start” major scientific advances, though what those might be remains a mystery.

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