The cluster of galaxies is crackling with intricate detail in new images from the James Webb Space Telescope. The JWST’s sharp infrared eyes are revealing how newborn stars shape their surroundings, providing clues to how stars and galaxies grow together.
“We were just blown away,” says Janice Lee, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He and more than 100 astronomers reported Scientists have their first look at these galaxies from the JWST in the special February issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters,
before jwst Launched in December 2021Li and his colleagues selected 19 galaxies that, if observed with a telescope, they thought could reveal new details of the life cycles of stars (Sn: 1/24/22, These galaxies are relatively close, within 65 million light-years of the Milky Way, and all have a variety of spiral structures. The team had observed galaxies with multiple observatories, but parts of the galaxies always looked flat and featureless.
“Together [JWST]we are seeing the structure at the smallest scales,” Li says. “For the first time, we are seeing the youngest sites of star formation in so many of these galaxies.”
In the new images, dark spots are visible on the faces of galaxies between glowing filaments of gas and dust. A comparison of Hubble Space Telescope images suggests that these voids are bubbles made of gas and dust carved out by the high-energy radiation from newborn stars at their centers.
Then, when the most massive of those stars reach the end of their lives and explode, even more of that gas is pushed out. Some of the larger bubbles have smaller ones at their edges, which may indicate places where gas pushed out by dying stars has begun to form new stars.
Comparing these processes in different types of spiral galaxies will help astronomers understand how the size and properties of galaxies affect the life cycles of their stars, and how galaxies grow and change along with their stellar inhabitants.
“We have only studied the first few [of the 19 selected] Milky Way,” Li says. “We need to study these things in whole samples to understand how the environment changes … how stars are born.”