Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory newsletter. Explore the universe with news of amazing discoveries, scientific advances and more.
A dazzling spiral galaxy located 29 million light-years from Earth appears in “unprecedented detail” in a new image released by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
The Galaxy “bones”which are usually obscured by dust, are displayed in full.
The galaxy, called IC 5332, spans about 66,000 light-years away, making it about a third the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
According to a press release from the European Space Agency, IC 5332 is “notable for being perfectly facing the Earth, allowing us to admire the symmetrical sweep of its spiral arms.”
To capture the image, the Webb telescope used the Medium Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, one of the observatory’s four powerful instruments for exploring the universe, according to the release.
MIRI is Webb’s only instrument sensitive to light at mid-infrared wavelengths, a type of wavelength that can only be observed by telescopes outside the Earth’s atmosphere. (Infrared is the term scientists use to refer to light that has wavelengths longer than a human can detect with the naked eye.)
The Hubble Space Telescope previously observed the galaxy in ultraviolet and visible light using the Wide Field Camera 3.
“The Hubble image shows dark areas that appear to separate the spiral arms, while the Webb image shows more continuous tangles of structures that mirror the shape of the spiral arms,” according to the release. The images reveal different stars, depending on the detectable wavelengths of each telescope.
The difference in comparing the side-by-side images is due to the dusty regions of the galaxy. Ultraviolet and visible light can be scattered by interstellar dust, so areas of dense dust appear darker in the Hubble landscape.
Webb’s ability to detect infrared light can penetrate interstellar dust. Together, these two views of the same galaxy reveal more about its composition and structure.
In order to work, all Webb instruments must remain extremely cold, because even slightly warm objects can emit their own infrared light and distort the image. MIRI is kept at its coldest temperature of minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 266 degrees Celsius) – only 7 degrees Celsius warmer than absolute zero. (Absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature on the thermodynamic scale.)
Meanwhile, Webb’s team is evaluating a problem in one of MIRI’s four monitoring modes.
On August 24, a mechanism that supports one of these modes, known as Medium Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS), demonstrated what appears to be increased friction during setup for a scientific observation. This mechanism is a grooved wheel that allows scientists to choose between short, medium and long wavelengths at Make observations using MRS mode,” according to an update from the NASA-operated Webb blog.
The web team has paused the notes in this mode because it defines a forward path. Otherwise, Webb, its tools, and the other three MIRI monitoring modes are fine.
Webb is operated by NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency. The $10 billion space observatory, which launched last December, has enough fuel to continue taking great images for about 20 years.
Compared to other telescopes, the Space Observatory’s massive mirror can see faint, distant galaxies and has the potential to enhance our understanding of the origins of the universe.
Some of Webb’s first images, released in July, shed light on the observatory’s capabilities to reveal previously unseen aspects of the universe, such as the birth of stars shrouded in dust.
However, it also uses its still and accurate image quality to illuminate our solar system, and so far has taken pictures of Mars, Jupiter and Neptune.