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James Webb's Infrared Vision Reveals Galaxy Skeleton


For more than two years, the Universe has revealed its deepest secrets through the sensitive lenses of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In a recent astronomical foray, this technological giant has brought to light previously hidden details of NGC 1559, a spiral galaxy with a hint of mystery, isolated in a lonely corner of space.

Using its powerful infrared vision, JWST has completely changed human understanding of this galaxy. Where once there was only starlight and dust, NGC 1559's intricate skeleton is now illuminated by the glow of young stars.

The space observatory's Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captured starlight filtered through dust, revealing star clusters and star-forming regions. In turn, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) allowed a direct view of the dust clouds, tracing the spiral structure of the galaxy.

Infrared image obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope of the spiral galaxy NGC 1559. Credit: ESA/Webb/NASA/CSA/A. Leroy, J. Lee and the PHANGS team

This isn't just a discovery of cosmic beauty – it's scientifically valuable. As part of the PHANGS project (acronym in English for “Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby Galaxies”), led by an international team of astronomers, the study of NGC 1559 aims to understand the secrets of the formation, life and death of stars in galaxies of all kinds.

By mapping these galaxies across the electromagnetic spectrum, using a collaboration between powerful observatories including JWST, Hubble and others, scientists are unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos.

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NGC 1559 is a lone protagonist on the vast stage of the Universe. Located in the constellation Reticulum (The Grid), in the southern hemisphere, it has no close galactic neighbors. However, her loneliness doesn't make her any less intriguing. Over the past few decades, it has been the scene of four supernovae.

Two of these supernovae, SN 2005df and SN 2009ib, played important roles in determining the distance to NGC 1559, providing fundamental clues about the expansion of the Universe. These discoveries were made possible by the tireless work of professional and amateur astronomers around the world, who used careful observations and meticulous analysis to understand the events.

SN 2005df was a Type Ia supernova in the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1559, which is located in the constellation Reticulum. Credit: ESO

Furthermore, NGC 1559 hides other intriguing mysteries. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed the presence of eight ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) within the galaxy. These enigmatic phenomena defy conventional explanations and suggest the presence of compact objects such as black holes and neutron stars.

Prominent among these fascinating discoveries is the ULX known as X-24, whose X-ray emission varies in a peculiar pattern. This variation is suspected to be linked to the orbit of an object, possibly a star, around a black hole, providing an unprecedented view of a compact binary system.

In short, NGC 1559 is much more than a simple galaxy. It's a cosmic treasure full of secrets waiting to be deciphered. Thanks to the power of James Webb and the dedicated work of astronomers, we are little by little learning more about the immensity of the Universe.



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