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Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope casually reveals terrifying purple galactic swirl in our universe


Looking more like a horrifying psychedelic swirl from a Marvel movie than the spiral galaxy shape familiar from visual telescopes, the brand new James Webb Space Telescope image shows the dusty skeleton of the distant galaxy NGC 628.

“It is a galaxy that probably looks loads like what we predict our own Milky Way looks like,” Gabriel Brammer, an astronomer on the Cosmic Dawn Center within the Niels Bohr Institute on the University of Copenhagen, who shared the image on Twitter Monday, told The Independent in an interview. “You may see all these knots of individual stars forming, individual supernovae have gone off and really study that intimately.”

The spiral arms of NGC 628 have been imaged before, but the photographs of the galaxy taken in visible light by the Hubble Space Telescope don’t look anything just like the purple spiral structure seen in Webb’s mid-infrared image.

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy NGC 628, which can resemble our own Milky Way galaxy.


“You take a look at this galaxy with Hubble or with ground based telescopes,” Dr Brammer said, “you see blue stars, you see red stars, you see spiral arms, you see dust lanes.”

Those dust lanes, he said, reddish brown filaments within the spiral arms are inclined to block stars within the visible images taken by Webb and other telescopes.

“Within the mid-infrared, what you’re actually form of seeing is the inverse of that, where that dust is not any longer absorbing; we’re actually observing directly that dust itself that’s now glowing, since the dust itself is emitting,” Dr Brammer said. “We’re actually seeing a picture of the gas and the dust on this galaxy, slightly than the celebrities.”

A mid-infrared image of the galaxy NGC 628 taken by the James Webb Space Telescope on 17 July

(Color composite, Gabriel Brammer (Cosmic Dawn Center, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen); raw data, Janice Lee et al. and the PHANGS-JWST collaboration.)

Webb took the image of NGC 628 on 17 July and transmitted it back to Earth where it was logged within the Barbara Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, (MAST), where the information is accessible to anyone, including the general public. Dr Brammer actually studies very distant galaxies in his own work slightly than relatively nearby galaxies like NGC 628, but when he saw the raw image in the information Monday morning, he knew he desired to color process the image and share it.

“It was really the very first thing that popped out,” he said. “It really just blew me away the second I had it open on my screen.”

While Nasa made a giant showpiece out of unveiling the primary five, full-colour Webb images on 12 July, the telescope has hardly stood idle since, and is continually taking images and placing them within the MAST archive, in response to Dr Brammer. For astronomers who’ve waited greater than 20 years for a likelihood to see what Webb can do, it’s extremely exciting times.“

“We’ve been waiting for Webb for in some cases for many years now and we’ve all been, not sleeping very much for the last week looking and form of as many alternative Webb images we are able to,” Dr Brammer said. “It’s all just truly spectacular.”

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