Universe Today

A new image from Webb shows galaxy NGC 1365, which is known to have an active supermassive black hole

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to provide stunning images of the universe, proving that years of development and delays are worth the wait! The latest from Judy Schmidt (aka. Geckzilla, Space capsule), an astrophotographer who processed Webb’s images of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365. NGC 1365, also known as the Large Barred Spiral Galaxy, is a double-barred spiral galaxy consisting of a long bar and a smaller bar structure, located about 56 million light-years away in the southern constellation Fornax.

More than 200,000 light-years in diameter, about twice the size of the Milky Way, NGC 1365 is known for the way its broad arms extend from the central bar, giving it its Z-shaped appearance. JWST chose the galaxy for its observations because of its iconic properties and how much of its interior is obscured by dust. In particular, its second bar is more prominent in infrared images, which previous instruments such as the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes have been limited in visualization.

Astronomers speculate that this rod played a crucial role in the evolution of the Milky Way, attracting gas and dust to the core, forming new stars, and serving as the source of the supermassive black hole of about 2 million solar masses and rotating at close to the speed ( SMBH) provides light for food. It has also been suspected that this region is caused by dynamical instabilities in the region, possibly due to stellar orbits, density waves, the overall rotation of the disk, and the possibility that the inner rods are faster than the larger ones.

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The NGC 1365 image combines observations from the 1.5-meter Danish Telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Image credit: ESO/IDA/Denmark 1.5 m/R. Gendler, JE. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne and C. Feron

This image, acquired by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), provides new insights into the galaxy’s inner workings. This includes the most detailed look at the central forbidden area and many smaller, slimmer arms extending from that area. The glowing center shows the SMBH (the bright spot in the middle) and the halo-like star-forming region, and the bright dust surrounding it. The two larger arms are also dotted with bright patches that look more like extended archipelagos than single structures.

As Schmidt points out, she processed the images using data provided by the High Angular Resolution Physics in the Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) Survey Team:

“dusty barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365. Interestingly, the dust bars are not as prominent as in visible light. At the center is a modest active galactic nucleus (AGN). The ring core dust is also quite noticeable. This time, I am very Delighted to receive the data reduction from the PHANGS team. Makes it easier as their mosaics are better matched and aligned.”

Astronomers are intrigued by NGC 1365 and other barred spiral galaxies because new observations suggest that the Milky Way may also be a barred spiral galaxy. Such galaxies are estimated to account for two-thirds of all spiral galaxies in the universe, and their research could shed light on our own formation and evolution. Given its advanced infrared optics suite, JWST is ideal for studying the nuclei of these galaxies and observing the forces that drive star formation, supermassive black holes, relativistic jets, and more.

A collage of Hubble images of NGC 1365 in visible and infrared light. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Carralo (Columbia University)/STScI

Among its many scientific goals, Webb will study parts of the universe that are largely inaccessible to visible light astronomy, such as molecular clouds (star-forming regions), planet-producing ring disks and the cores of active galaxies. This includes the center of the Milky Way, which has been difficult to observe due to all the cosmic dust between it and Earth. These observations will reveal clues about its supermassive black hole (Sagittarius A*), the stars orbiting it, and the dense “galactic bulge” surrounding it.

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