Hubble and James Webb view of IC 5332. Image Credit: NASA/ESA.

James Webb View of Galaxy IC 5332 is Mind-Bending

The James Webb Space Telescope has turned its powerful cameras to a galaxy called IC 5332, some 29 million light-years away.


The James Webb space telescope is complementing scientific exploration of the universe in an unprecedented way. The 10-billion-dollar space observatory is changing the way we observe the cosmos and is providing us with new insight into planets, stars, and galaxies.
Now, the James Webb Space Telescope has snapped a spectacular image of the spiral galaxy IC 5332. This galaxy was already observed with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the new photograph of the galaxy by James Webb Space Telescope complements the observations made by Hubble. Combining the data from both world-leading space telescopes reveals a powerful set of capabilities.

Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) has provided unprecedented details about the spiral galaxy. IC 5332 is about 29 million light-years away, and its diameter is around 66,000 light-years, so it is about the same size as the Milky Way. Because of its almost perfect face-on relationship with Earth, we can observe its spiral arms in their symmetrical sweep.

Only MIRI operates in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum (specifically between 5 m and 28 m wavelength); Webb’s other instruments all operate in the near-infrared region. MIRI was developed under the leadership of both ESA and NASA and is the first instrument to deliver images in the mid-infrared that can be easily compared to Hubble’s view at shorter wavelengths.

Comparing the two images

To the left is the view by Hubble and to the right is the same galaxy as seen by James Webb.


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Its most remarkable feature is its frosty temperature of –266°C, 33 °C lower than the rest of the observatory. MIRI operates in a temperature environment that is seven °C warmer than absolute zero, which according to thermodynamics, is the absolute lowest temperature. Dedicated active cooling systems keep MIRI’s highly specialized detectors at the right temperature so they can function correctly in this cold environment.

In the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, obtaining observations is incredibly challenging. Since much of the mid-infrared spectrum is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, observing it from Earth is extremely difficult. The Hubble’s mirrors were not cool enough to allow Hubble to observe the mid-infrared region, which would have dominated any observations because of infrared radiation. It is evident in this stunning image that MIRI’s detectors were given the freezing environment they needed to function properly.

Here, the lavishly detailed infrared image of this galaxy is displayed side-by-side with the extremely detailed ultraviolet and visible-light image of the same galaxy taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). It is immediately evident that there are some differences. Compared to the Hubble image, the Webb image shows more of a continuous tangle of structures echoed by the spiral arms. A galaxy with dusty regions produces this difference.


Infrared light is less susceptible to being scattered by interstellar dust than ultraviolet and visible light. As a result, dusty regions are easily identifiable in Hubble images by their darker color since most of the galaxy’s ultraviolet and visible light cannot pass through them. Webb’s image no longer shows dark, dusty regions, however, since the galaxy’s mid-infrared light has passed through them. The two images show different stars, which may be explained by the fact that certain stars reflect different wavelengths of light in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared. As each image reveals more about IC 5332’s structure and composition, they complement one another in a remarkable way.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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