The James Webb Space Telescope has given a spiral galaxy 230 million light-years away a shimmering new sparkle that’s perfect enough for a Christmas tree.
While the galaxy has a not-so-charming name, NGC 7469, it has been a fascinating subject of study.
JWST peered at NGC 7469 as part of a survey to understand star formation, the growth of supermassive black holes, and the way galaxies interact and merge across vast gulfs of space and time.
NGC 7469 is also very special. It has elegant, beautiful spiral arms that we can see along their entire length, thanks to the obliquity of orientation: the flat surface of the galaxy faces us almost directly, giving us an amazing view of the galactic structure.
The galaxy also has a very bright center, especially when it comes to infrared.
This is because the supermassive black hole around which the entire galaxy revolves is active: it is surrounded by material that is falling or accreting onto the black hole, a process that generates a great deal of light as gravity and friction heat the matter that causes it. radiates.
At a distance of about 1,500 light-years from NGC 7469’s galactic center is another bright ring featuring furious star-forming activity, known as a starburst. Because we can see the galaxy so clearly, scientists can study it to better understand the link between a starburst episode and an AGN.
Like the galactic core, the starburst rings glow brightly in the infrared, the wavelength range in which JWST sees the universe in such stunning detail. Its observations of galaxies such as NGC 7469 are expected to yield unprecedented insight into these processes and how they are linked.
Scientists have already found new clusters of star formation and direct evidence that dust is being destroyed near the galactic core – showing that the activity is affecting the surrounding galaxy.
They also found that the highly ionized and diffuse atomic gas was spewing out from the galactic center at 6.4 million kilometers (4 million miles) per hour. Shocks from these winds, a recent paper currently in print found, do not affect the starburst ring.
Another galaxy is in the lower left corner of the JWST image. This is IC 5283, locked in a gravitational dance with NGC 7469. Together, the two galaxies are known as Arp 298. You can see enhanced regions of bright red on the edge of NGC 7469 closest to IC 5283; This is likely because the larger galaxy is consuming star-forming gases feeding off its smaller companion.
The starburst and possibly even galactic nucleus activity in NGC 7469 is thought to be the result of the interaction between the two galaxies.
The large hexagonal feature that dominates the image is JWST diffraction spikes, an artifact created by the telescope’s physical structure. So it’s not actually real…but it sure looks pretty.
You can download sized versions of the new background image from the ESA JWST website.
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