NASA's James Webb captures magnificent spiral galaxy with details never-seen-before
A new image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals a bright, spiral galaxy called NGC 7469, which has been aptly captioned 'cosmic wreath.' The image unveils new details that have never been seen before. The galaxy lies 220 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Another galaxy IC 5283 is also visible in the lower left portion of the image.
Why does this story matter?
- Scientists have been studying the spiral galaxy NGC 7469 for a long time now but the intervening cosmic dust has always posed a challenge.
- Thanks to Webb's infrared capacity, scientists can now look past the dust and study the galaxy in greater detail and observe more features including the dense ring of star formation around the bright center of the galaxy.
NGC 7469 lies almost face-on when viewed from Earth
The bright central region in NGC 7469 is called an active galactic nucleus (AGN). The light is emitted by a supermassive black hole, located at the galaxy's center, which devours any material that gets close to it. The spiral galaxy lies almost face-on when viewed from Earth and this makes it easier for astronomical observations. It is approximately 90,000 light-years in diameter.
Webb's image provides fresh insights into the spiral galaxy
Webb's image has revealed "very young star-forming clusters never seen before, as well as pockets of very warm, turbulent molecular gas, and direct evidence for the destruction of small dust grains within a few hundred light-years of the nucleus," as per the European Space Agency (ESA). The latest observations prove that "the AGN is impacting the surrounding interstellar medium."
Webb's image captured fine details of the galactic outflow
Webb's image also reveals ionized atomic gas emissions arising from the galaxy at roughly 6.4 million kilometers per hour. A part of the galactic outflow was previously identified by ground-based observations but hasn't been seen before in such detail.
AGN is surrounded by a close starburst ring
NGC 7469 is also important because its AGN is surrounded by a starburst ring, located at a distance of merely 1,500 light-years and this gives astronomers a unique opportunity to study the relationship between AGNs and starburst activity. Webb provides a better understanding of the spiral galaxy's starburst ring, the central AGN, and the gas and dust in between.
Wondering what that orangish star is in the image?
The latest Webb image is stunning but what's that orangish six-pointed star at the center of the galaxy? Well, it's an imaging artifact called a diffraction spike, which is caused by the bright and unresolved parts of the AGN. Such spikes are created when light bends around the edges of telescopes. Webb's images have six-pointed diffraction spikes because of the telescope's hexagonal mirror arrangement.