A gothic sight! James Webb Telescope Reveals “Bones” of Galaxy IC 5332 – Teach Me About Science

A gothic sight!  James Webb Telescope Reveals "Bones" of Galaxy IC 5332 - Teach Me About Science
Two views of Galaxy IC 5332. An image from the Hubble Space Telescope on the left and an image from the James Webb Space Telescope on the right.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has given us an unprecedented view of the galaxy IC 5332. Located 29 million light-years away, this spiral galaxy was previously observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, but Webb’s infrared view reveals previously unseen details. Caught so far.

Thanks to the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) aboard JWST, we have this image in unprecedented detail of the galaxy IC 5332, a third smaller than the Milky Way. It is 66,000 light-years in diameter and 29 million light-years from Earth. It is a very special galaxy to observe because it is perfectly face-on with respect to Earth, allowing us to appreciate the symmetrical motion of its spiral arms.

“Space, but keep it Gothic! 🕸️,” Webb’s team said on Twitter. “If this new image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) looks dark and moody, it’s because things look different than you’re used to in this light. These are the bones of the IC 5332 galaxy, usually obscured by dust.

The image below from the James Webb Telescope shows IC 5332, a spiral galaxy, in unprecedented detail from MIRI observations. This device is the only device carrying a web that is sensitive to the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, all other devices operate in the near-infrared. One of MIRI’s most impressive features is that it operates at an extreme freezing temperature of -266°C, which is only 7°C warmer than absolute zero.

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(Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST and PHANGS-HST teams).

Below is a view of the same galaxy imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. The clarity from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) separates the galaxy’s arms from the dark dust clouds between them, which block ultraviolet and visible light that Hubble is sensitive to. For its part, Webb’s image provides a very different view, instead highlighting the patterns of gas scattered throughout the galaxy.

(ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST and PHANGS-HST teams).

“IC 5332’s symmetrical spiral arms, which are so clearly visible in Hubble’s ultraviolet and visible-light images, are revealed as a complex network of gas that emits infrared light at various temperatures.” Webb’s team explained in a statement. “Harvesting at these wavelengths requires very specialized equipment that is kept at very low temperatures, and MIRI excels at this task.”

In other words, the Hubble image shows dark regions separating the spiral arms, while the Web image shows a continuous tangle of structures that echo the shape of the spiral arms. This difference is due to the presence of dust particles in the galaxy. Ultraviolet and visible light are much more likely to be scattered by interstellar dust than infrared light.

The James Webb Space Telescope, also known as Webb or JWST, is an international program led by NASA with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency. Its extreme sensitivity allows it to capture light traveling over 13.5 billion years.

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