New images of the spectacular Phantom Galaxy, M74, showcase the power of space observatories working together in multiple wavelengths. In this case, data from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope compliment each other to provide a comprehensive view of the galaxy.
The Phantom Galaxy is around 32 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces, and lies almost face-on to Earth. This, coupled with its well-defined spiral arms, makes it a favourite target for astronomers studying the origin and structure of galactic spirals.
M74 is a particular class of spiral galaxy known as a ‘grand design spiral’, meaning that its spiral arms are prominent and well-defined, unlike the patchy and ragged structure seen in some spiral galaxies.
Webb’s sharp vision has revealed delicate filaments of gas and dust in the grandiose spiral arms of M74, which wind outwards from the centre of the image. A lack of gas in the nuclear region also provides an unobscured view of the nuclear star cluster at the galaxy’s centre.
Webb gazed into M74 with its Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) in order to learn more about the earliest phases of star formation in the local Universe. These observations are part of a larger effort to chart 19 nearby star-forming galaxies in the infrared by the international PHANGS collaboration. Those galaxies have already been observed using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories.
The addition of crystal-clear Webb observations at longer wavelengths will allow astronomers to pinpoint star-forming regions in the galaxies, accurately measure the masses and ages of star clusters, and gain insights into the nature of the small grains of dust drifting in interstellar space.
Hubble observations of M74 have revealed particularly bright areas of star formation known as HII regions. Hubble’s sharp vision at ultraviolet and visible wavelengths complements Webb’s unparalleled sensitivity at infrared wavelengths, as do observations from ground-based radio telescopes such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA.
By combining data from telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, scientists can gain greater insight into astronomical objects than by using a single observatory – even one as powerful as Webb!
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries in our Solar System, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our Universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. The major contributions of ESA to the mission are: the NIRSpec instrument; the MIRI instrument optical bench assembly; the provision of the launch services; and personnel to support mission operations. In return for these contributions, European scientists will get a minimum share of 15% of the total observing time, like for the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
MIRI was contributed by ESA and NASA, with the instrument designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (the MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona.