The James Webb Space Telescope captured a stunningly detailed image of a nearby dwarf galaxy. Near-infrared views offer astronomers a unique opportunity to study aspects of the early universe.
This image shows a constellation of stars in a lonely dwarf galaxy called Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte. It is approximately three million light-years away from our Milky Way home galaxy and is only one-tenth its size.
Astronomers find the WLM galaxy fascinating because it is isolated and has a chemical makeup similar to early universe galaxies, NASA says.
The Webb telescope was launched in December 2021 and is the most powerful space observatory. It can detect faint light from distant galaxies by detecting infrared light. This wavelength is invisible to the human eye.
Webb captured the WLM galaxy with his Near-Infrared Camera (also known as NIRCam) using the Hubble Space Telescope, and the now-defunct Spitzer Space Telescope.
Kristen McQuinn is an assistant professor at Rutgers University in Piscataway. She posted a comment on NASA’s website. “We can see myriad individual stars of various colors, sizes and temperatures; interesting clouds of Nebular Gas within the galaxy; foreground star with Webb’s Diffraction Spikes; and background galaxies that have neat features such as tidal Tails.” A tidal “tail” is a thin string of interstellar gases and stars that extends from a galaxy.
McQuinn, one of the Webb Early Release Science Program’s leads scientists, said that “it’s a really beautiful image.”
NASA’s Webb telescope official account stated on Twitter that Webb’s NIRCam images “make the whole place shine” — a reference, of course, to Taylor Swift’s song “Bejeweled” from her new album “Midnights.”
McQuinn pointed out that some of the stars in this Webb image are low-mass stars, which were formed at the beginning of the universe. They can survive for billions upon billions of years.
She said, “By determining these low-mass star properties (like their ages), it is possible to gain insight into the very distant past.”