January 31, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Spiral Galaxies Revealed in Dazzling Multicolored Splendor

New images from the Webb telescope combined with
Hubble images present a catalog of awesome structures


Some cases of scientific discovery deserve a moment of wonder before any analysis or commentary begins. Such is the case with this NASA announcement made by the NASA Webb Mission Team on January 29th, 2024.

Gallery of 19 nearby face-on spiral galaxies released 29 Jan 2024 as part of the PHANGS project (Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS). The images combine visible-light Hubble images with infrared-light James Webb Space Telescope images along with data from other wavelengths.

NASA’s Webb Depicts Staggering Structure in 19 Nearby Spiral Galaxies (NASA, 29 Jan 2024). Spiral galaxies, the public’s favorite deep-sky objects, are beautiful for their symmetry. The project combines data from multiple wavelengths from orbital and ground-based telescopes.

These Webb images are part of a large, long-standing project, the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program, which is supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide. Before Webb took these images, PHANGS was already brimming with data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope’s Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, including observations in ultraviolet, visible, and radio light. Webb’s near- and mid-infrared contributions have provided several new puzzle pieces.

This image of spiral NGC 628 shows how the information from Hubble (lower right) and JWST (upper left) complement one another to permit physicists to analyze the processes that create the “staggering structure” inherent in spiral galaxies.

Face-on spiral galaxy, NGC 628, is split diagonally in this image: The James Webb Space Telescope’s observations appear at top left, and the Hubble Space Telescope’s on bottom right. Webb and Hubble’s images show a striking contrast, an inverse of darkness and light. Why? Webb’s observations combine near- and mid-infrared light and Hubble’s showcase visible light. Dust absorbs ultraviolet and visible light, and then re-emits it in the infrared. In Webb’s images, we see dust glowing in infrared light. In Hubble’s images, dark regions are where starlight is absorbed by dust.

The caption of the JWST full image notes a peculiar fact: “The spiraling filamentary structure looks somewhat like a cross section of a nautilus shell.” The similarity relates to the Fibonacci Series, a mathematical relationship of numbers that is found in many apparently-unrelated phenomena, from spiral galaxies to hurricanes to pine cones and sunflowers. No one fully understands why such disparate structures, from a spiral galaxy to a nautilus shell, follows this relationship despite differing in size by many orders of magnitude. One thing, though, is certain: humans find the structures to be beautiful. They relate also to the “Golden Ratio” proportions that architects and artists know are most pleasing to the eye. For an exquisite animation showing Fibonacci numbers in nature, see Cristobal Vila’s short film, Nature by Numbers.

The NASA Webb Mission Team only briefly touched on explanations for certain details in the images. The team preferred to leave analysis to astronomers:

In addition to immediately releasing these images, the PHANGS team has also released the largest catalog to date of roughly 100,000 star clusters. “The amount of analysis that can be done with these images is vastly larger than anything our team could possibly handle,” Rosolowsky emphasized. “We’re excited to support the community so all researchers can contribute.”’

For now, it suffices for everyone to just take a moment to gaze into the vast beauty of spiral galaxies.

“Webb’s new images are extraordinary,” said Janice Lee, a project scientist for strategic initiatives at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “They’re mind-blowing even for researchers who have studied these same galaxies for decades. Bubbles and filaments are resolved down to the smallest scales ever observed, and tell a story about the star formation cycle.”

Excitement rapidly spread throughout the team as the Webb images flooded in. “I feel like our team lives in a constant state of being overwhelmed – in a positive way – by the amount of detail in these images,” added Thomas Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Is there a viewer not awestruck by these photos? It’s worth asking why a materialist’s universe would be so beautiful. Those who see the artistry of a divine Architect who created the universe and established the laws of physics that govern structures like these have new reasons to proclaim, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).

Read about the “spiral galaxy wind-up problem” for deep time (4 May 2011, 4 March 2006).

Some thoughts from Illustra Media on life on a “pale blue dot” within a vast universe.

Source: The John 10:10 Project




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