Galaxies pictured in astonishing detail shed light on the mysteries of newborn stars

EMBARGOED TO 1600 FRIDAY JULY 16 Undated handout photo issued by European Southern Observatory of the nearby galaxies NGC 1300, NGC 1087, NGC 3627 (top, from left to right), NGC 4254 and NGC 4303 (bottom, from left to right) taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). New images of nearby galaxies resemble colourful cosmic fireworks. The images show different components of the galaxies in distinct colours, allowing astronomers to pinpoint the locations of young stars and the gas they warm up around them. Issue date: Friday July 16, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SCIENCE Galaxies. Photo credit should read: ESO/PHANGS/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Astronomers have captured nearby galaxies in amazing detail (Credit: ESO/PHANGS/PA Wire)

A team of astronomers have created breathtaking new images of nearby galaxies using massive telescopes on Earth and in space.

The pictures use distinct colours to show different components of galaxies, like stars and gases. This helps astronomers locate newly-formed stars in galactic nurseries.

It also makes the images particularly stunning.

They’re the result of work by 90 researchers at 30 different institutions involved in a project known as PHANGS, or, ‘Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS.’

The team combined data from two telescopes in Chile — the European Southern Obervatory’s Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array — and Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope to create the pictures.

Astronomers hope images like these will help them better understand the mysterious process of star formation.

PHANGS team member Kathryn Kreckel said: ‘There are many mysteries we want to unravel. Are stars more often born in specific regions of their host galaxies — and, if so, why?

‘And after stars are born how does their evolution influence the formation of new generations of stars?”

This image made available by the European Southern Observatory on July 16, 2021, and taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, shows the nearby galaxy NGC 4254, obtained by combining observations taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESOs Very Large Telescope (VLT) and with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner. - From gas clouds to stars, an international team of astronomers on July 16, 2021, delivered with the PHANGS-MUSE catalog of 19 galaxies close to ours, a picture of an unequalled precision of stellar nurseries.This is the result of a campaign, begun in 2017, of observation of galaxies located, for the most distant, only 60 million light-years away, and for the closest to only 5 million light-years away. (Photo by Handout / European Southern Observatory / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT
This image shows the nearby galaxy NGC 4254 (Credit: European Southern Observatory/AFP via Getty Images)

The research team took scans of the galaxies in different wavelengths to build their remarkable images. This helped them better capture the stars and gases floating in these regions.

Warm, bright gases are a smoking gun for newborn stars, which illuminate and heat the gas around them.

PHANGS team member Francesco Belfiore said: ‘[The combination of wavelengths] allows us to probe the various stages of stellar birth — from the formation of the stellar nurseries to the onset of star formation itself and the final destruction of the nurseries by the newly born stars — in more detail than is possible with individual observations.

This image made available by the European Southern Observatory on July 16, 2021, and taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations shows the nearby galaxy NGC 4303 obtained by combining observations taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESOs Very Large Telescope (VLT) and with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner. - From gas clouds to stars, an international team of astronomers on July 16, 2021, delivered with the PHANGS-MUSE catalog of 19 galaxies close to ours, a picture of an unequalled precision of stellar nurseries.This is the result of a campaign, begun in 2017, of observation of galaxies located, for the most distant, only 60 million light-years away, and for the closest to only 5 million light-years away. (Photo by Handout / European Southern Observatory / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT
The nearby galaxy NGC 4303 is pictured (Credits: European Southern Observatory/AFP via Getty Images)

‘PHANGS is the first time we have been able to assemble such a complete view, taking images sharp enough to see the individual clouds, stars, and nebulae that signify forming stars.’

epa09348381 A handout photo made available by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows the nearby galaxy NGC 1300 taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO???s Very Large Telescope (VLT) (issued 16 July 2021). NGC 1300 is a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 61 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. The golden glows mainly correspond to clouds of ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions in the background reveal the distribution of slightly older stars.?? The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum. EPA/ESO/PHANGS HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
This image shows the nearby galaxy NGC 1300: a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 61 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus. (Credits: EPA/ESO/PHANGS)
This image made available by the European Southern Observatory on July 16, 2021, and taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, shows the nearby galaxy NGC 4303 a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 55 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. - From gas clouds to stars, an international team of astronomers on July 16, 2021, delivered with the PHANGS-MUSE catalog of 19 galaxies close to ours, a picture of an unequalled precision of stellar nurseries.This is the result of a campaign, begun in 2017, of observation of galaxies located, for the most distant, only 60 million light-years away, and for the closest to only 5 million light-years away. (Photo by Handout / European Southern Observatory / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT
This image also shows NGC 4303, which is a spiral galaxy with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 55 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. (Photo by European Southern Observatory/AFP via Getty Images)

Astronomers hope that more advanced devices like Nasa’s long-anticipated James Webb space telescope and the ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope will allow them to take even more detailed pictures of stellar nurseries.

epa09348377 A handout photo made available by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows the nearby galaxy NGC 3627 taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO???s Very Large Telescope (VLT) (issued 16 July 2021). NGC 3627 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 31 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. The golden glows mainly correspond to clouds of ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions in the background reveal the distribution of slightly older stars.?? The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum. EPA/ESO/PHANGS HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
The nearby galaxy NGC 3627, a spiral galaxy located approximately 31 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo, is pictured. The image was created by combining a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. (Credits: EPA/ESO/PHANGS)

PHANGS principal investigator Eva Schinnerer said: ‘As amazing as PHANGS is, the resolution of the maps that we produce is just sufficient to identify and separate individual star-forming clouds, but not good enough to see what’s happening inside them in detail.

‘New observational efforts by our team and others are pushing the boundary in this direction, so we have decades of exciting discoveries ahead of us.’

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