James Webb Space Telescope: Fascinating Images Show Nearby Spiral Galaxies

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Illustration of 19 spiral galaxies observed with the James Webb Telescope in the
Illustration of 19 spiral galaxies observed with the James Webb Telescope in the near- and mid-infrared light range. The near-infrared camera captured millions of stars in these images. Older stars appear blue and are clustered in the galaxies’ cores. The observations in the telescope’s mid-infrared range highlight glowing dust, showing where it exists around and between stars, appearing in shades of red and orange. Stars that haven’t yet fully formed and are encased in gas and dust appear bright red. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team | NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), PHANGS Team

Heidelberg University astrophysicist vital contributor to preparation and study of new data

Fascinating new images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope show the structure of 19 nearby spiral galaxies. They were acquired with infrared light and provide a detailed view of the distribution of stars and the material from which they form. An astrophysicist from the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH) made significant contributions to the latest publication: Dr Oleg Egorov is one of the main developers of the data reduction software used to convert the observations from the space telescope into images. The researcher also uses the data for his own research. The Webb images are part of the PHANGS programme, a long-standing project supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide.

Due to its capabilities of detecting nearand mid-infrared light, the Webb telescope delivers impressive observations of unprecedented clarity and structural wealth, reports Dr Egorov. "Using the current data, we can visualise the structure of the interstellar medium of nearby galaxies in more detail and greater resolution than ever achieved before. This allows us to study the distribution of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons across the galaxy discs," explains the Heidelberg researcher. According to Dr Egorov, these molecules are ubiquitous in the interstellar medium. They stand out in the mid-infrared light range and can be used as tracers for physical and chemical processes. They can therefore provide insight into how feedback from massive stars regulates the appearance of the interstellar medium (ISM). The data analysis for all 19 galaxies is currently in progress.

Oleg Egorov is a postdoctoral researcher in the Emmy Noether research group of Dr Kathryn Kreckel at Heidelberg University’s Centre for Astronomy. The researchers there are investigating the connection between gas ionisation and star formation under the auspices of the PHANGS programme, which is aimed at studying the mechanisms of star formation in spiral galaxies in detail. In addition to his work in Dr Kreckel’s research group, Dr Egorov together with Dr Thomas Williams of Oxford University (UK) is one of the main contributors to the code and data reduction pipeline known as PJPipe. The software is used to convert the observations of nearby galaxies into images.