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JWST took the most stunning spiral galaxy photos

Plus, Japan's moon lander is up and running again!

JWST snapped a bunch of stunning pictures of spiral galaxies!

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team, Elizabeth Wheatley

It’s not hard to understand why scientists are so intrigued by spiral galaxies. They’re stunning, and also, our own Milky Way in one. Studying how these galaxies formed and achieved their shape helps scientists understand how we got here.

JWST’s latest image series is part of the project Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies or (PHANGS) — yes they name things like this on purpose. The aim here is to study the way the small scale things, like star formation and the physics of gas, interact with the large scale things like galaxy formation and structure. Images like this help scientists understand how galaxies grow. The prevailing theory is that spiral galaxies grow from the inside out — that is, star birth begins at the center and then moves out through the spiral arms. They study this by taking high resolution observations of galaxies with different telescopes — they’ve used Hubble, ALMA, the VLT in visible, UV, and radio wavelengths— now it’s JWST’s turn.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team

The remarkable thing about these images — apart from how stunning they are — is how much detail they show in these 19 galaxies. These photos add near- and mid-infrared to the mix. NIRCam, or JWST’s near-infrared camera, is what captured the glowing stars. You can see millions of them in these images; being able to resolve individual stars this far away is a big deal and it’s so cool that JWST can do this.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team

MIRI, or JWST’s mid-infrared instrument, showcases dust. In these images, the dust is around and in between the stars. Where you’re peering THROUGH the gas and dust — because remember, that’s what infrared light is best for, the stars appear red. These are the stars that haven’t yet emerged from their gas and dust shell; they’re the newest and also the most massive you can see here. And where you see holes in the gas and dust may be from where stars have exploded and cleared away this material.

You can also see how some of JWST’s images of these galaxies compare to Hubble’s as part of this project.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team

Credit: NASA, Phangs, Hubble

You can really see how stark the difference is between the two observatories in this image of NGC 1512. Hubble’s here is in UV and visible light. JWST shows glowing dust, while Hubble depicts the dark regions where dust is absorbing light and the telescope can’t penetrate it.

Here’s another one, this is NGC 2835.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team

Credit: NASA, Phangs, Hubble

You can see just how much scientists were missing by not having the infrared view of this galaxy.

Going back to the JWST images, what’s really interesting here is on some of these galaxy centers, you can see diffraction spikes.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team

These usually only appear on individual stars, not galaxies (for more on why these distinctive spikes occur, watch my video on diffraction spikes).

This is a good sign that these galaxies have either active supermassive black holes at the center of their galaxies or star clusters located around there that are bright enough to saturate that area and cause diffraction spikes.

Japan’s moon lander is back again, but it’s unclear for how long

Japan’s moon lander is awake, but probably not for long!!

Remember SLIM, Japan’s moon lander that successfully soft landed on the moon but in the wrong orientation (on its nose) so its solar cells weren’t charging? Well, it looks like they got a charge because the little lander is up and running.

Credit: JAXA/LEV-2

Well, on January 28, the moon lander made contact with Earth. JAXA has resumed scientific operations with the moon lander and successfully made first light. (This is when an instrument takes images for the first time. You’ll recall we have images OF SLIM on the surface, taken by the rover LEV-2, but up until now, none BY SLIM).


Here’s the first light image from SLIM, taken by the MBC or multi-band camera, which is designed to TK. The first image is a composite of 257 monochrome photographs.


In the second, the team has assigned some fun names to some of the larger rocks visible. After SLIM recovers more power, the team will start high-resolution spectroscopic imaging.

The question is what happens from here. SLIM wasn’t designed to operate over the long term. One lunar day is about two weeks long, and that’s how long it was designed to operate. It wasn’t supposed to survive the harshness of lunar night, which also lasts two weeks — it gets to around -208 degrees F/-130 degrees C. Lunar night will hit tomorrow and last until the end of February.

That being said, it is a hardy little spacecraft and it could surprise us. We’ll see what happens!