JWST Phantom Galaxy

This image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope shows the heart of M74, otherwise known as the Phantom Galaxy. (Credit: NASA)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The James Webb Space Telescope just teamed up with another NASA space probe to collect a breathtaking set of images of the universe around us. Collating data captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and JWST, astronomers are giving us a fresh look at two galaxies, a nebula, and a star cluster — in spectacular fashion.

Four composite images released on May 23 combine Chandra’s X-rays — a form of high-energy light — with infrared data from previously released JWST images, both of which are invisible to the naked eye. The NASA team also used data from their Hubble Space Telescope (optical light) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared), plus the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton (X-ray) and the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope (optical light).

“These cosmic wonders and details are made available by mapping the data to colors that humans can perceive,” NASA scientists explain in a media release.

Here’s what the space telescopes spotted:

M16 (Eagle Nebula)

This famous region of the sky is often called the “Pillars of Creation.” The JWST image shows dark columns of gas and dust shrouding the few remaining emerging stars that are still forming.

Image of the Eagle nebula
A composite image of the Eagle Nebula (M16) with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope penetrates the dark columns of gas and dust to reveal how much star formation is happening there. The Chandra data (red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays respectively) show very few X-ray sources in the so-called “Pillars of Creation” themselves. This indicates that star formation peaked in this region several million years ago. (Credit: NASA)

Star cluster NGC 346

This is a star cluster in a nearby galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200,000 light-years from Earth. JWST helped to reveal plumes and arcs of gas and dust that stars and planets use as source material during their formation. The purple cloud on the left, spotted by Chandra, is all that remains of a supernova explosion.

Image of star cluster NGC 346
Image of star cluster NGC 346 (Credit: NASA)

Galaxy NGC 1672

This is a spiral galaxy, but one that astronomers categorize as a “barred” spiral. “In regions close to their centers, the arms of barred spiral galaxies are mostly in a straight band of stars across the center that encloses the core, as opposed to other spirals that have arms that twist all the way to their core,” the NASA team says. Chandra data also found compact objects like neutron stars or black holes which are pulling in material from companion stars.

Image of galaxy NGC 1672
Image of galaxy NGC 1672 (Credit: NASA)

Galaxy M74 (Phantom Galaxy)

Messier 74 is also a spiral galaxy — like our Milky Way. It’s about 32 million light-years away from our planet. Astromoners call M74 the “Phantom Galaxy” because it is relatively dim, making it harder to spot with smaller telescopes.

James Webb Space Telescope images shows the heart of M74, otherwise known as the Phantom Galaxy.
This image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope shows the heart of M74, otherwise known as the Phantom Galaxy. (Credit: NASA)

South West News Service writer Dean Murray contributed to this report.

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