NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) is providing scientists with a groundbreaking perspective on the impact young stars exert on the evolution of neighboring galaxies. One of Webb's subjects, the spiral galaxy NGC 7496, has been keenly observed as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) collaboration. The images captured by Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) portray a galactic tapestry rife with expansive bubbles and overlapping shells, which are hallmarks of energy released by fledgling stars and the expulsion of surrounding gas and dust.
The infrared capabilities of Webb offer an unprecedented clarity to observe stars in the earliest stages of their lifecycle within nearby galaxies like NGC 7496. These stars were previously obscured by cosmic dust and gas. Webb's unique wavelength range detects complex organic molecules, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, crucial to star and planet formation. These molecules, as shown in the MIRI image, are primarily located within the primary dust lanes spiraling around the galaxy.
Upon studying the newly acquired data from Webb, scientists were able to pinpoint nearly 60 new potential star clusters within NGC 7496. These newly found clusters could potentially represent the youngest stars in the entire galaxy. At the core of NGC 7496, a barred spiral galaxy, an active galactic nucleus (AGN) sits, signifying the presence of an active supermassive black hole, radiating intense jets and winds. This glows brightly in the center of Webb's image. Moreover, Webb's exceptional sensitivity enables it to detect several background galaxies, displaying them in varying shades of green and red. NGC 7496 is situated more than 24 million light-years away from Earth, in the Grus constellation.