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Peer inside the bar of a barred spiral galaxy in new James Webb image

The newest image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows a stunning display of dust and stars that form the bar of the barred spiral galaxy NCG 5068, located 17 million light-years away. Like our galaxy, the Milky Way, this galaxy has a central bar that is a more concentrated region of stars and dust compared to the arms that reach out from the galaxy’s center.

The image was taken using two of Webb’s instruments, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam). By looking in both the mid- and near-infrared wavelengths, Webb is able to pick out features like the swirls of dust and gas, as well as the stars in this region, with the bar of the galaxy glowing in the top left of the image.

A delicate tracery of dust and bright star clusters threads across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. The bright tendrils of gas and stars belong to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, whose bright central bar is visible in the upper left of this image. NGC 5068 lies around 17 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo.
A delicate tracery of dust and bright star clusters threads across this image from the James Webb Space Telescope. The bright tendrils of gas and stars belong to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, whose bright central bar is visible in the upper left of this image. NGC 5068 lies around 17 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

The bar of a barred spiral galaxy is typically a busy region of star formation, so this image was collected as part of a study into star formation in nearby galaxies. The Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS project (PHANGS) involves both Webb and the Hubble Space Telescope, along with other ground-based telescopes like the Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and is a survey to take high-resolution images like this one of regions of star formation.

For this project, “Webb collected images of 19 nearby star-forming galaxies, which astronomers could then combine with catalogs 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),” Webb scientists write. “These observations span the electromagnetic spectrum and give astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to piece together the minutiae of star formation.”

Webb is particularly useful for studying star formation, because it looks in the infrared wavelengths. This allows its instruments to see through clouds of dust, which would be opaque in the visible light wavelength. In the image above, you can see the dust forming a green web-like structure between the stars, which glow as points of light. Bubbles of gas are shown in red.

You can also check out the views taken by MIRI and NIRCam individually.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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