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Spiral Galaxy NGC 4254’s Dazzling Swirls

Webb’s image of NGC 4254 shows a densely populated face-on spiral galaxy anchored by its central region, which has a light blue haze that takes up about a quarter of the view. In this circular core is the brightest blue area. Within the core are populations of older stars, represented by many pinpoints of blue light. Spiny spiral arms made of stars, gas, and dust also start at the center, largely starting in the wider area of the blue haze. The spiral arms extend to the edges, rotating counterclockwise. The spiraling filamentary structure looks somewhat like a cross section of a nautilus shell. The arms of the galaxy are largely orange, ranging from dark to bright orange. Scattered across the packed scene are some additional bright blue pinpoints of light, which are stars spread throughout the galaxy. In areas where there is less orange, it is darker, and some dark regions look more circular.
It’s oh-so-easy to be mesmerized by this spiral galaxy. Follow its clearly defined arms, which are brimming with stars, to its center, where there may be old star clusters and – sometimes – active supermassive black holes. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope delivered highly detailed scenes of this and other nearby spiral galaxies in a combination of near- and mid-infrared light.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), and the PHANGS team

NGC 4254, a spiral galaxy, is resplendent in orange and blue in this Jan. 29, 2024, image from the James Webb Space Telescope. This is one of 19 nearby spiral galaxies recently imaged by the telescope as part of the long-standing Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) program supported by more than 150 astronomers worldwide.

Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera captured millions of stars in these images, which sparkle in blue tones, while the telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument data highlights glowing dust, showing us where it exists around and between stars.

Explore the intricacies of spiral galaxies in this deep dive.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), and the PHANGS team