The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has revealed an exquisite tracery of dust and bright star clusters in this spectacular image. The tendrils of gas and stars belong to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, whose bright central bar is visible in the upper left. Located around 17 million light-years from Earth, in the Virgo constellation, NGC 5068 is a magnificent sight that captures the beauty and mystery of our universe. Its delicate structures are comprised of star clusters, gas clouds, and dark dust lanes, creating an entrancing spectacle that is awe-inspiring to behold.
This portrait of NGC 5068 is part of a campaign to create an astronomical treasure trove. Previous gems from this collection can be seen here and here, and these observations are particularly valuable to astronomers for two reasons. The first is that by observing the formation of stars in nearby galaxies, astronomers are able to gain insights into the physics of the tenuous plasma that lies between stars, as well as the evolution of entire galaxies. The second reason is that these observations could provide astronomers with some of the first available data from the James Webb Space Telescope, which could kick-start major scientific advances. Together, these observations will form a vital resource for astronomers and will help to shape our understanding of the universe.
Webb’s observations offer a much deeper and more comprehensive understanding of star formation due to the fact that they build on the observations of other telescopes, such as NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Webb has collected images of 19 nearby star-forming galaxies, which were then combined with catalogues from Hubble of 10,000 star clusters, spectroscopic mapping of 20,000 star-forming emission nebulae from the VLT, and observations of 12,000 dark, dense molecular clouds identified by ALMA. These combined observations span the electromagnetic spectrum and provide astronomers with a greater ability to analyze and interpret the various aspects of star formation.
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) is the ultimate tool for exploring the star formation process. By using its ability to peer through the gas and dust clouds that obscure newborn stars, Webb is able to capture details that would otherwise be inaccessible. The keen vision of two of the telescope’s instruments, MIRI and NIRCam, allowed astronomers to take a unique look at the composition of NGC 5068. This image combines both the capabilities of these instruments, giving a detailed yet clear view of the star formation process in the nebula. Webb’s infrared wavelengths allow for unparalleled insight into the creation of stars and planetary systems, enabling researchers to easily observe and study these phenomena.