The image reveals a spectacular spiral star system similar to our own.

Astronomers from the European Space Agency (ESA) have used the James Webb Space Telescope to capture an image of a spiral galaxy that resembles our home, the Milky Way. The star system, LEDA 2046648, is located a billion light-years from our own in the constellation Hercules; it contains thousands of galaxies, trillions of stars and countless planets, Engadget wrote on the subject.

The image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope shows a crowded field of galaxies, as well as bright stars topped with Webb’s characteristic six-point diffraction spikes. The large spiral galaxy at the base of this image is accompanied by numerous smaller, more distant galaxies that range from full-blown spirals to simple bright spots. Called LEDA 2046648, it is located just over a billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation Hercules.

One of Webb’s main scientific goals is to observe distant galaxies in the early universe to understand the details of their formation, evolution and composition. Webb’s infrared vision helps the telescope peer back in time as the light from these distant galaxies is shifted to infrared wavelengths.

Comparing these systems to galaxies in the local Universe will help astronomers understand how galaxies evolved to form the structure we see today. Webb will also study the chemical composition of thousands of galaxies to shed light on how heavy elements have formed and accumulated over the course of galaxy evolution.

ESA published the image on January 31 (highlighted this week by The NY Times). The space agency describes it as a simple calibration image to “verify the telescope’s capabilities in the course of preparing it for science operations.” ESA astronomers imaged it on May 22, 2022, with the Webb telescope’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam).

Most of the visible spots surrounding LEDA 2046648 are also galaxies, although a few stars can be identified by their diffraction spike patterns. Some objects in the image may be as old as 300 million years after the Big Bang.

Of course, an image of something a billion light-years away means that we are observing the light of a galaxy from a billion years ago. So astronomers look forward to studying early galaxies like this (and even older ones) to help clarify the kinds of stars that condensed after the Big Bang – and how supermassive black holes ended up at the centers of most galaxies.

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