James Webb Space Telescope Gazes Into The Spiral Arms Of The Whirlpool Galaxy (photos)

On August 29, NASA announced that its James Webb Space Telescope gazes into a spiral arm of the Whirlpool galaxy gloating in space in about 27 million light years away from us. The American space agency released vibrant photos of this observation revealing the detailed view of the spiral galaxy M51(also referred to as the Whirlpool galaxy or NGC 5194).

The images showed the bond relationship the galaxy is maintaining with its neighboring dwarf galaxy known as NGC 5195. Astronomers revealed that the galactic relationship between the Whirlpool galaxy and the dwarf galaxy made the M51 pose its ornate pattern which can be seen in the newly released images. Scientists across the world marvel at the beauty of this galaxy during the recently released images.

“The gravitational influence of M51’s smaller companion is thought to be partially responsible for the stately nature of the galaxy’s prominent and distinct spiral arms,” the European Space Agency said in a statement about the image.

What Scientists learned from the newly released images

Galactic image as captured by James Webb’s Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam) (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

While studying the newly captured photos of the Whirlpool galaxy, scientists discovered that its beautiful spiral arms show that the galaxy has a winding structure instead of a regular arm of a standard spiral galaxy. Researchers named the M51 winding structure as a grand design galaxy.

Unlike a regular spiral galaxy with vortexed arms, the Whirlpool galaxy has vortexed arms and extremely strongly defined arms that originate from its clear core region. In addition, scientists love the real beauty of this galaxy and they even wondered if our Milky Way galaxy has a similar grand-design style.

How JWST Captured The Whirlpool Galaxy

Galactic portrait as captured by Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI). (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

James Webb Space Telescope, which is the most powerful telescope ever built has continued to perform wonders among the stars. The space telescope recently used its sophisticated infrared instruments including the Mid-infraRed Instrument (MIRI) and the Near-Infrared Camera to capture detailed images of the M51. These two instruments capture two different views of the galactic world. However, scientists combined the two images to get a composite image of the spiral galaxy.

These two instruments can observe and capture cosmic objects in the distant part of the universe by decoding infrared light signals coming from distant stars and galaxies. Immediately these signals reach JWST’s gold-plated, hexagonal mirrors, and they reflect onto the sensors which then proceed to transmit the data to ground control. Since the human eyes can only see visible light and not infrared light, JWST is considered the deep eyepiece of the human race.

Hence, the powerful telescope has the potential to decode the invisible part of the Universe to Earthlings. You may be wondering why both images of the Whirlpool galaxy are in color. Scientists added the coffee-colored hues to enable the shining white accents in the images to become more visible and detailed. Scientists often add these artistic details to bring out more features of the image.

Comparing Hubble’s Image of Whirlpool Galaxy to That Of JWST

Galactic portrait as a composite image that integrates data from Webb’s Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI). (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope)

Hubble’s 2011 view of the Whirlpool galaxy marvels our scientists. However, the composite photo developed by merging the MIRI and NIRCam photos together during the recent JWST capture offers a better view of the galaxy.

The ESA announced that “Part of a series of observations known as Feedback in Emerging Extragalactic Star Clusters, or FEAST, these observations were designed to shed light on the interplay between stellar feedback and star formation in environments outside our own galaxy.”

In addition, the team behind the recent image of the Whirlpool galaxy shared their opinion about Hubble’s view of the galaxy and that of the JWST.

“Although Hubble is providing incisive views of the internal structure of galaxies such as M51, the planned James Webb Space Telescope is expected to produce even crisper images,” the team stated.


The recent capture of the Whirlpool galaxy reveals the fascinating view of the spiral galaxy using the most sophisticated space telescope ever built by our civilization. Hence, scientists will still need to conduct further observations to reveal more details about the galaxy. If you are so passionate about the Universe, you may consider reading any of these books written by the World’s best astrophysicists and scientists.

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