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JWST has taken a picture of the gaseous ‘skeleton’ of a spiral galaxy

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has taken a picture of the galaxy IC 5332, peering through the dust that separates its spiral arms to reveal the gas and stars beneath

Space 27 September 2022

This image of the spiral galaxy IC 5332, taken by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope with its MIRI instrument, has been scaled and cropped to match the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope???s view of the same galaxy.

Stars and glowing gas show through the dust in this image of the spiral galaxy IC 5332

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

This tangle of stars and gas is a spiral galaxy called IC 5332, photographed by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Because JWST observes in infrared light, it can see through dust clouds to reveal the galaxy’s underlying skeleton of stars and glowing gas.

IC 5332 is about 29 million light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Sculptor. It is about 66,000 light years across, making it about two-thirds the size of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It is oriented almost exactly face-on to Earth, making its spiral arms particularly distinct in previous images using visible light.

Those arms are separated by lanes of dust that disappear in this JWST image, revealing many stars that emit light too red to spot with the Hubble Space Telescope, or that were previously blocked from sight. Even galaxies that were hidden behind IC 5332 are visible in the gaps between stars. The galaxy’s symmetrical arms still show in the image, but the areas between them shine bright with stars and gas as well.

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Comparing this image with pictures from Hubble could help us learn more about the structure and composition of this galaxy and how dust, gas and stars interact within spiral galaxies more generally.

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