Webb unveiled spiral galaxy IC 5332 in new light • Earth.com

Webb unveiled spiral galaxy IC 5332 in new light

Today’s Image of the Day from the European Space Agency features the spiral galaxy IC 5332, which is located over 29 million light-years away from Earth and spans approximately 66,000 light-years in diameter. This makes it notably smaller than our Milky Way, which is about a third larger. 

Unprecedented look at IC 5332

In a stunning photo release by NASA and ESA in 2022, the spiral galaxy IC 5332 was presented in an unprecedented level of detail in images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.

This feat was made possible through the use of the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), which captures images in the mid-infrared spectrum.

Unique perspective from Earth

One of the most striking features of IC 5332, as revealed by these observations, is its almost perfect face-on orientation relative to Earth. 

This unique perspective allows astronomers to clearly observe and admire the symmetrical arrangement of its spiral arms.

Webb unveils IC 5332 in new light

The clarity of these images represents a significant advancement over previous observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope, which imaged IC 5332 in ultraviolet and visible light. 

While Hubble’s images revealed the galaxy’s symmetrical spiral arms, James Webb’s MIRI has unveiled these structures as a complex web of gas that emits infrared light at various temperatures.

The MIRI instrument on James Webb 

Capturing this range of infrared light is no simple task. It requires highly specialized instruments that must be maintained at extremely cold temperatures. 

The MIRI instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope is specifically designed for this purpose and performs exceptionally well. Its capabilities allow astronomers to see aspects of galaxies that are otherwise hidden in other wavelengths.

The detailed images provided by MIRI offer more than just a visual spectacle; they provide valuable data about the composition and temperature of the gases that make up the spiral arms of IC 5332. This can help scientists understand the processes of star formation within the galaxy and how these processes compare to those in our own Milky Way.

Webb finds hidden features of the universe 

Moreover, the images of IC 5332 serve as a critical test of the James Webb Space Telescope’s capabilities in observing the universe in infrared light. As astronomers continue to deploy Webb’s full suite of instruments to explore the cosmos, it is expected that many more hidden features of the universe will be revealed.

The information provided by the James Webb Space Telescope not only expands our understanding of the cosmos but also enhances our appreciation for the complex and beautiful structures that exist in our universe. 

We can anticipate many more insights from Webb that will deepen our understanding of the fundamental processes governing galaxies and the broader universe.

More about spiral galaxies like IC 5332

Spiral galaxies are some of the most visually striking objects in the universe, characterized by their rotating arms that extend from a central nucleus, giving them a distinct spiral appearance. 

These galaxies are primarily made up of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas, and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as the bulge. These are often surrounded by a much fainter halo of stars, many of which reside in globular clusters.

Spiral galaxies differ from other galaxy types, such as elliptical and irregular galaxies, in their structure and content. The spiral arms are sites of ongoing star formation and are brighter than the rest of the disk because of the young, hot stars that are typically found there. The arms appear distinct because of their density waves, which compress the gas and dust, leading to star formation.

The rotation of the spiral arms also contributes to the galaxy’s flat shape due to the centrifugal forces acting on the disk. The central bulge can vary in size and often contains older, red stars. 

Barred spiral galaxies 

Some spiral galaxies have a bar-shaped structure that extends from the central bulge, making them barred spirals. This bar affects the motion of stars and gas within the galaxy and can influence star formation activity.

The Milky Way, where our solar system resides, is an example of a barred spiral galaxy. Spiral galaxies are an important focus of study because they contain a significant amount of visible matter and play a crucial role in understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies. 

Their distinct features also make them particularly useful for studying the laws of physics under extreme conditions, such as high densities and velocities.

Image Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST and PHANGS-HST Teams

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