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Phantom Galaxy Dazzles in Stunning Image From Webb and Hubble Telescopes

What's better than a space telescope? Two space telescopes.

A swirly, sparkly spiral galaxy shimmers in shades of blue, pink, red and green.
This combined image of the Phantom Galaxy uses optical data from Hubble and mid-infrared data from Webb. Red colors indicate dust, young stars are in blue and older stars near the center are in cyan and green. Pink indicates areas of star formation.
ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team; ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Chandar Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt

It's the buddy flick space fans have been waiting for. The new James Webb Space Telescope and the venerable workhorse Hubble Space Telescope team up to seek out the heart of the Phantom Galaxy. Hijinks ensue. 

The European Space Agency shared a combined telescope view of the Phantom Galaxy in a stunning image released on Monday. Found 32 million light-years away in the Pisces constellation, the galaxy (also known as Messier 74 or M74) is a cover model among spiral galaxies. It's known for its well-defined curving arms, which star in an image that brings together Webb's infrared vision and Hubble's ultraviolet and visible wavelengths.

Three versions of the Phantom Galaxy show Hubble's optical view, the combined image and Webb's infrared view.

ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team; ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Chandar Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt

ESA showed what the JWST and Hubble images look like separately and what can be learned by mixing the two. "The addition of crystal-clear Webb observations at longer wavelengths will allow astronomers to pinpoint star-forming regions in the galaxies, accurately measure the masses and ages of star clusters, and gain insights into the nature of the small grains of dust drifting in interstellar space," the space agency said.

The colors in the tag-team image highlight different features of the galaxy. Red is dust in the spiral arms, with more orangey areas indicating hotter dust. Young stars glitter in blue. Older stars near the center shine in green and cyan, creating the galaxy's "spooky glow." The pink hot spots are places of star formation.

We saw a preview of Webb's look at the Phantom Galaxy back in July when astronomers got their hands on early Webb datasets and played around with processing and sharing the photogenic scene.

Hubble is a joint project of NASA and ESA, while Webb is run by NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. The agencies have long said Webb isn't meant as a replacement for Hubble, which is over 30 years old -- pretty ancient in space telescope terms. The two telescopes have different specialties and Hubble could continue to operate into the late 2020s. 

I like to think of Hubble and JWST as the Men in Black of the cosmos, a crusty veteran and a newcomer, both with an interest in space, coming together to make the world of science a better place.