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JWST transforms galaxy into Christmas ornament

JWST transforms galaxy into Christmas ornament
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) recently provided a new sparkling glamour shot of a spiral galaxy 230 million light-years away.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) recently provided a new sparkling glamour shot

A spiral galaxy 230 million light-years away, perfect for the Christmas tree. While the galaxy’s official name is NGC 7469, it’s been a fascinating subject to study. JWST observed NGC 7469 as part of a survey to learn more about star formation, the growth of supermassive black holes, and how galaxies interact and merge across vast gulfs of space and time.

NGC 7469 is also noteworthy. It has elegant, beautiful spiral arms that we can see all the way around because of a peculiar orientation: the flat of the galactic plane is almost directly facing us, providing us with a stunning view of the galaxy’s structure.

The galaxy also has a very bright centre, particularly in terms of infrared radiation.

This is due to the fact that the supermassive black hole that the entire galaxy revolves around is active: It is surrounded by material that is falling, or accreting, onto the black hole, a process that produces a lot of light because gravity and friction heat the material, causing it to glow.

Another bright ring with furious star formation activity, known as starburst, is located approximately 1,500 light-years from the galactic centre of NGC 7469.

Scientists can study the galaxy because we can see it so clearly to better understand the relationship between a starburst ring and an active galactic nucleus.

Starburst rings, like the galactic nucleus, glow brightly in infrared, the wavelength range through which JWST sees the Universe in such spectacular detail.

Its observations of galaxies such as NGC 7469 are expected to provide unprecedented insight into these processes and how they interact.

They also discovered that highly ionised, diffuse atomic gas is erupting from the galactic centre at a rate of approximately 6.4 million kilometres (4 million miles) per hour. A recent paper in preprint discovered that wind shocks have no effect on the starburst ring.

Another galaxy can be seen in the bottom left corner of the JWST image.

That’s IC 5283, and it’s in a gravitational tug-of-war with NGC 7469. The two galaxies are known collectively as Arp 298.

The bright red regions on the edge of NGC 7469 closest to IC 5283 are likely due to the larger galaxy slurping nourishing star-forming gas from its smaller companion.

The starburst and possibly galactic nucleus activity in NGC 7469 are thought to be the result of the two galaxies interacting.

The large six-pointed feature that dominates the image is the JWST’s diffraction spikes, an artefact caused by the telescope’s physical structure. So it’s not really real… But it’s certainly attractive.

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