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See thousands of stars in a galaxy 17 million light-years away captured by the James Webb Space Telescope

Photo shows star about to become supernova
New image from James Webb Telescope shows star about to become supernova 06:00

New images from the James Webb Space Telescope provide a glimpse into what a galaxy looks like 17 million light-years away. The images, shared on Friday, are part of an "astronomical treasure trove" focused on collecting star formation observations. 

The "delicate tracery of dust and bright star clusters" are found in NGC 5068, a spiral galaxy about 17 million light-years from Earth, NASA said. According to the telescope's website, the galaxy is located in the Virgo constellation, and the latest images show it "as never before." 

One image shows what looks like a glowing white bar, marking the core of the galaxy, the European Space Agency said. 

"Thousands upon thousands of tiny stars that make it up can be seen, most dense in a whitish bar that forms its core," a European Space Agency description of the photo says. "Clumps and filaments of dust form an almost skeletal structure that follows the twist of the galaxy and its spiral arm. Large, glowing bubbles of red gas are hidden in the dust."

In this image, from Webb's MIRI instrument, the dusty structure of the spiral galaxy and glowing bubbles of gas containing newly-formed star clusters are particularly prominent.  ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

Another image captured by the telescope's MIRI instrument shows the galaxy with three asteroid trails seen by "tiny blue-green-red dots." But those asteroid tails didn't actually fly through the galaxy, NASA said. They only appeared because "they are much closer to the telescope than the distant target." 

"As Webb captures several images of the astronomical object, the asteroid moves, so it shows up in a slightly different place in each frame," the European Space Agency said. 

These galactic portraits are part of a mission to "create an astronomical treasure trove," the agency said, "a repository of observations of star formation in nearby galaxies." Before the Webb telescope, seeing past the gas and dust that surround newborn stars wasn't possible. But with the telescope's unique instruments, NASA said astronomers could see "right through the gargantuan clouds of dust in NGC 5068 and captured the processes of star formation as they happened." 

Having this trove is an effort to hopefully help astronomers make more advances in star and space research. 

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