- The James Webb telescope captured an image of M51, a galaxy 27 million light-years away.
- The telescope is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and can take images in unprecedented detail.
- Astronomers hope the image will shed light on how stars form in galaxies other than Milky Way.
A hypnotic image of a whirlpool galaxy captured by the James Webb telescope has revealed how NASA’s new observatory outclasses its predecessor, Hubble.
The image shows the majestic spiral arms of the M51, a mysterious galaxy 27 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici.
NASA likened the galaxy to “a grand spiral staircase sweeping through space” with its arms made up of lanes of newly-formed stars.
The below image of M51, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, is a composite produced from data gathered by Webb’s Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam) and its Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI).
Dark red regions show the cosmic dust that permeates the galaxy, while the red regions show the light from complex molecules forming on dust grains. Orange and yellow reveal the gas created from the birth of star clusters.
Astronomers hope the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will shed new light on how stars form in galaxies other than Milky Way.
Stars are the building blocks of galaxies, and working out how they are born could help provide clues to how the universe formed.
Before Webb came along, the Hubble telescope provided a glimpse of star formation in galaxies such as M51.
In the below image taken by Hubble in January 2005, red represents hydrogen within giant star-forming regions, blue depicts young stars, and yellow shows older stars.
The image also features a yellowish dwarf galaxy at the tip of one of the M51’s arms called NGC 5195. The small galaxy has been gliding past the M51 for hundreds of millions of years.
“The compact galaxy appears to be tugging on the arm, the tidal forces from which trigger new star formation,” said NASA. That may be why M51’s spiral arms appear so prominent.
But the image from Hubble is vastly inferior to the latest one produced by JWST, which reveals patterns of star clusters that had never seen before.
This is because Hubble sees ultraviolet light, visible light, and a small slice of infrared, while JWST can see across the infrared spectrum, Insider previously reported.
Webb is also 100 times more powerful than Hubble, which allows astronomers to peer further into space.
“Webb is opening a new window into the early stages of star formation and stellar light, as well as the energy reprocessing of gas and dust,” according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
“Scientists are seeing star clusters emerging from their natal cloud in galaxies beyond our local group for the first time.”
When Hubble captured an image of M51 more than a decade ago, the team behind it said that they couldn’t wait to see the same image with the planned James Webb telescope, according to Space.com.
The new telescope, it seems, didn’t disappoint.