The James Webb Space Telescope spies on spiral galaxies

Stunning images of the swirling arms of spiral galaxies are some of the stunning images our galaxy and others have to offer.

In just its first Earth year in space, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured some stunning images of these spinning wonders.

[Related: Our universe mastered the art of making galaxies while it was still young.]

The constellation of Hercules — named after the Roman spelling of the Greek demigod Heracles, known for his strength — is home to trillions of stars spanning some 13 billion light-years. At the bottom center of the constellation is a spiral galaxy called LEDA 2046648. It’s a billion light-years away, but one of its distinguishing features is that it looks like our own Milky Way.

A new image from JWST is so clear that the galaxy’s spiral arms are visible – impressive for such a distant sight. It shows several galaxies and stars in six-pointed diffractive peaks that have become one of JWST’s signature observations.

This image shows a broader view of the star and galaxy field surrounding spiral galaxy LEDA 2046648. Webb’s NIRCam instrument has identified a plethora of smaller, more distant galaxies and bright stars surrounding this galaxy, demonstrating the telescope’s impressive infrared resolution. CREDIT: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, A. Martel.

The image was captured with JWST’s Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), which can detect infrared rays and see light in the infrared spectrum. This is an important part of one of Webb’s main missions, exploring the age when stars and galaxies first began to light up the universe.

JWST also spotted a cannibal galaxy called Sparkler for the dwarf galaxies and 12 globular clusters glowing around them. In the results published in the journal late last year Monthly Bulletins of the Royal Astronomical Society, it appears to be a “very early” reflection of the Milky Way. Studying Sparkler could help astronomers understand how our home galaxy took shape.

[Related: The James Webb Space Telescope just identified its first exoplanet.]

According to the study team, the galaxy is a cannibal because it devours nearby celestial objects to keep growing. It is believed that the Milky Way also grew in this way. Astronomers spotted the star in JWST’s First Deep Field released in July 2022. This image is the deepest, most detailed view of the universe ever recorded and was Webb’s first full-color image.

JWST's latest new galaxy discoveries reflect the Milky Way
An artist’s rendering of the Milky Way in its youth. It is surrounded by globular star clusters. CREDIT: James Josephides, Swinburne University.

The Sparkler Galaxy is shown as a distorted orange line surrounded by flares.

“We appear to be witnessing firsthand this galaxy’s clustering as it builds its mass — in the form of a dwarf galaxy and several globular clusters,” said co-author Duncan Forbes, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, in a statement . “We are excited about this unique opportunity to study both the formation of globular clusters and a young Milky Way at a time when the Universe was only a third of its current age.”

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