Outstanding beauty or an eldritch horror. These are just two ways that people have described the latest picture of M74, a large and nearby spiral galaxy. The pictures were taken by JWST in infrared, peering through the layers of the galaxy to focus on its heated gas, dust, and some of the stars. Pretty much everything that shines in mid-infrared.
The image was prepared by Judy Schmidt, an expert space image processor, whose work truly speaks for itself. The image of M74 was created by converting three of the telescope's mid-infrared observations into visible colors. The emission from the longest wavelength (21 microns) was turned into red. The mid-one, at 11.3 microns, was turned to orange and the shortest (7.7 microns) to cyan. The overall brightness was created using a greyscale of the 10-micron observations. And this incredible composition is the result.
These observations of M74, also known as NGC 628, come from the PHANG Survey, which aims to survey stars, star clusters, and dust in 19 nearby galaxies that have also been observed by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The goal is to study star formation in galaxies from beginning to end.
Schmidt has done another galaxy processing from the PHANG survey – NGC7496 – both as a stand-alone mid- and near-infrared observations from JWST, as well as a composite Hubble and JWST image.
JWST's science images have only been available for 10 days and we are already amazed, from the cosmic cliff of the Carina Nebula to seeing the gas around a black hole. And there are decades of observations still to come.