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Capture all that glitters in the galaxies

Capture all that glitters in the galaxies

An international research team will survey stars, star clusters, and dust within 19 nearby galaxies.

To understand galaxies, you have to understand how stars are formed. More than 100 researchers from around the world have collaborated to compile observations of nearby spiral galaxies taken with the world’s most powerful radio, visible and ultraviolet telescopes – and will soon add a full suite of high-resolution infrared images from NASA‘s James Webb Space Telescope. With this ground-breaking data set, astronomers will be able to study stars as they begin to form within dark, dusty gas clouds, untangle them as those fledgling stars explode away from this gas and dust, and identify more mature stars that are spewing out layers of gas and dust — all of that. For the first time in a variety of spiral galaxies.

This image of spiral galaxy NGC 3351 combines observations from several observatories to reveal details about its stars and gases. Radio observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submatrix Array (ALMA) show a dense molecular gas in purple. The Very Large Telescope’s Multi-Unit Spectral Explorer (MUSE) instrument stands out as young, massive stars illuminate their surroundings, shining red. Hubble Space Telescope images highlight dust lanes in white and newly formed stars in blue. High-resolution infrared images from the Webb Space Telescope will help researchers determine where stars form behind the dust and study the early stages of star formation in this galaxy. Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, ESO-Chile, ALMA, NAOJ, NRAO; Image processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

Spirals are some of the most captivating shapes in the universe. They appear in intricate seashells, carefully constructed spider webs, and even in the curls of ocean waves. Spirals on cosmic scales – as seen in galaxies – are even more impressive, not only for their beauty, but also for the sheer amount of information they contain. How are stars and star clusters formed? Until recently, the full answer lay out of reach, barred by gas and dust. Within its first year of operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will help researchers complete a more detailed mapping of the stellar life cycle using high-resolution infrared images of 19 galaxies.

The telescope will also provide some key “puzzle pieces” that have been missing so far. “JWST touches many different phases of the stellar life cycle — all with tremendous precision,” said Janice Lee, chief scientist at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab Gemini Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. “Webb will reveal star formation in its early stages, just as gas collapses to form stars and surrounding dust heats up.”

Leigh was joined by David Thalker of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, Katherine Krickell of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and 40 additional members of the multi-wavelength survey program known as PHANGS (High Angular Resolution Physics of Nearby Galaxies). their mission? Not only to unravel the secrets of star formation using Webb’s high-resolution infrared images, but also to share data sets with the entire astronomical community to speed up discovery.

Rhythms of star formation

PHANGS is new, in part, because it has brought together more than 100 international experts to study star formation from start to finish. They target galaxies that can be seen head-on from Earth and that are, on average, 50 million light-years away. The major collaboration began with microwave images of 90 galaxies in the Atacama Large Millimeter/ Submillimeter Cluster (Alma) in Chile. Astronomers use this data to produce molecular gas maps to study the raw materials for star formation. Once in very large telescopemulti-unit spectrophotometerMeditation), also in Chile, online, and obtained data known as spectra to study the later stages of star formation for 19 galaxies, especially after star clusters removed nearby gas and dust. space-based Hubble Space Telescope It provided visible and ultraviolet optical observations of 38 galaxies to add high-resolution images of individual stars and star clusters.

Galaxy NGC 1300

This image of spiral galaxy NGC 1300 combines multiple observations to map star clusters and gases. The radio light observed by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Subscale Array (ALMA), represented in yellow, highlights clouds of cold molecular gas that provide the raw materials from which stars are formed. Data from the Very Large Telescope’s Multi-Unit Spectrograph (MUSE) instrument is represented in red and purple, capturing the effect of young, massive stars on the surrounding gas. Visible and ultraviolet light captured by the Hubble Space Telescope highlights dust lanes in gold and very hot stars in blue. High-resolution infrared images from the Webb Space Telescope will help researchers determine where stars form behind the dust and study the early stages of star formation in this galaxy.
Credits: Science: NASA, ESA, ESO-Chile, ALMA, NAOJ, NRAO; Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

The missing elements, which Webb will fill in, are largely found in regions of galaxies obscured by dust — regions where stars are actively beginning to form. “We will clearly see star clusters in the cores of these dense molecular clouds, of which we had only indirect evidence before,” Thalker said. “Webb gives us a way to look inside these ‘star factories’ to see newly assembled star clusters and measure their properties before they evolved.”

The new data will also help the team determine the ages of star groups in a diverse sample of galaxies, which will help researchers build more accurate statistical models. “We always contextualize the small scales in the big picture of galaxies,” Krickel explained. “Using Webb, we will trace the evolutionary sequence of each galaxy’s stars and star clusters.”

Another important answer they’re looking for involves the dust surrounding stars in the interstellar medium. Webb will help them identify regions of gas and dust associated with specific star-forming regions, and which interstellar regions are free-floating. “It wasn’t possible before, outside the nearest galaxies. Thalker added.

The team is also working to understand the timing of the star formation cycle. “Timelines are very important in astronomy and physics,” he told me. How long does each stage of star formation take? How might these timescales differ in different galactic environments? We want to measure the time these stars release themselves from their clouds of gas to understand how star formation is disrupted. “

knowledge for all

These Webb notes will be taken as part of the Treasury program, which means that they are not only immediately available to the public, but will also be of broad and lasting scientific value. The team will create and release datasets that align Webb’s data with each of the complementary datasets from ALMA, MUSE and Hubble, allowing future researchers to dig into each galaxy and its star clusters with ease, switching between different wavelengths on and off — and zooming in on pixels individual photos. They will provide inventories of different phases of the star formation cycle, including star formation regions, young stars, star clusters, and local dust characteristics.

This research will be conducted as part of Webb’s General Observer (GO) programs, which are competitively selected using an anonymous double-review system, the same system used to allocate time on the Hubble Space Telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve the mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and explore the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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