James Webb captures a ‘jeweled’ image of a dwarf galaxy

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The James Webb Space Telescope has taken a remarkably detailed image of a nearby dwarf galaxy. The near-infrared view reveals the deepest glimpse yet of a stellar panorama that could offer astronomers an ideal way to study aspects of the early universe.

The image shows an array of stars in a lonely dwarf galaxy called Wolf – Lundmark – Melotte, which lies about 3 million light-years from our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and is about 2000 in size. about a tenth.

The WLM galaxy intrigues astronomers because it has remained largely isolated and bears a chemical composition similar to galaxies in the early universe, according to Nasa.

The Webb Telescope, which launched in December 2021, is the most powerful space observatory to date. It is able to detect faint light from incredibly distant galaxies as they glow in infrared light, a wavelength invisible to the human eye.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the old Spitzer Space Telescope have imaged the WLM galaxy, but Webb used his near-infrared camera, also called NIRCam, to capture it in unprecedented detail.

“We can see a myriad of individual stars of different colors, sizes, temperatures, ages and stages of evolution; interesting clouds of nebular gas in the galaxy; foreground stars with Webb diffraction spikes; and background galaxies with neat features like tidal tails,” said Kristen McQuinn, assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, in a comment posted on the NASA website. A tidal tail is a thin « tail » of stars and interstellar gas extending offshore from a galaxy.

« It really is a beautiful image, » added McQuinn, who is a lead scientist in the Webb Early Release Science program.

On Twitter, NASA’s official Webb Telescope account said that compared to past images from the space observatory, the NIRCam image of Webb « makes the whole place sparkle » – a reference to the song « Bejeweled ». on Taylor Swift’s new album, « Midnights ».

Some of the stars depicted in this latest Webb image are low-mass stars that formed in the early universe and are capable of surviving for billions of years, McQuinn noted on the NASA site.

« By determining the properties of these low-mass stars (like their age), we can better understand what happened in the very distant past, » she said.

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