On Jan. 31, NASA released a new photo taken from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), using its impressive instruments to capture a truly stunning image of multiple galaxies, including a spiral galaxy where you can see the ice-like swirls cascading around the glowing center. But what’s going on in this image? Where in space is it? And just how many galaxies am I looking at? Here’s what to know.
Can you explain what’s happening in this image like I’m 5?
Those specks of glitter dotting the photo’s dark background represent distant galaxies and bright stars. “The large spiral galaxy at the base of this image is accompanied by a profusion of smaller, more distant galaxies which range from fully-fledged spirals to mere bright smudges,” NASA explains.
This area of space is named LEDA 2046648, and it’s far away in the Hercules constellation, which is just over a billion light-years away from us here on Earth. So, far! The JWST’s ability to see this far into distant galaxies is huge for astronomy and a big focus of the telescope.
“One of Webb’s principle science goals is to observe distant galaxies in the early universe to understand the details of their formation, evolution, and composition,” NASA explains. And the infrared vision tool on the telescope allows these amazing images to be captured.
Researchers can then compare those distant systems with the galaxies closer to us, which gives lots of information on how galaxies grow and how they become what we see today.
To read more about this amazing photo, check out ESA/Webb.