New image from Webb telescope shows ‘lonely’ dwarf galaxy in striking detail
Part of the dwarf galaxy Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte is shown, as captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope (left) and the James Webb Space Telescope. (Kristen McQuinn via NASA)
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WASHINGTON — The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a remarkably detailed image of a nearby dwarf galaxy. The near-infrared image reveals the deepest yet glimpse of a stellar panorama that could provide astronomers with an ideal means to study aspects of the early Universe.
The image shows an arsenal of stars in a lonely dwarf galaxy called Wolf-Lundmark-Melottewhich is about 3 million light-years away from our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and about a tenth the size.
This dwarf galaxy is intriguing to astronomers because it has remained largely isolated and has a similar chemical composition to galaxies in the early Universe, according to NASA.
The Webb telescope, which launched in December 2021, is the most powerful space observatory to date. It is able to detect the faint light of incredibly distant galaxies as they glow in infrared light, a wavelength invisible to the human eye.
The Hubble Space Telescope and the now-defunct Spitzer Space Telescope have imaged the dwarf galaxy, but Webb used his Near-Infrared Camera to capture it in unprecedented detail.
“We can see a large number of individual stars of different colors, sizes, temperatures, ages and evolutionary stages; interesting clouds of nebula gas in the galaxy; foreground stars with Webb’s diffraction peaks; and background galaxies with nice features like tidal tails,” said Kristen McQuinn, an assistant researcher. professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, commenting on the NASA website. A tidal tail is a thin “tail” of stars and interstellar gas extending from a galaxy.
“It’s a really beautiful image,” added McQuinn, one of the lead scientists of the Webb Early Release Science program.
On Twitter, NASA’s official Webb telescope account stated that, compared to previous space observatory images, Webb’s near-infrared image “makes the whole place sparkle” — a reference to the song “Bejeweled” on Taylor Swift’s new album, “Midnights.”
Some of the stars pictured in this latest Webb image are low-mass stars that formed in the early Universe and can survive for billions of years, McQuinn noted at NASA’s site.
“By determining the properties of these low-mass stars (such as their ages), we can gain insight into what happened in the very distant past,” she said.
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