weic2407 — Photo Release

Webb peers into the tendrils of NGC 604

9 March 2024

Two new images from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) showcase the star-forming region NGC 604, located in the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), 2.73 million light-years away from Earth. In these images, cavernous bubbles and stretched-out filaments of gas etch a more detailed and complete tapestry of star birth than seen in the past.

Sheltered among NGC 604’s dusty envelopes of gas are more than 200 of the hottest, most massive kinds of stars, all in the early stages of their lives. These types of stars are known as B-types and O-types, the latter of which can be more than 100 times the mass of our own Sun. It’s quite rare to find this concentration of them in the nearby Universe. In fact, there’s no similar region within our own Milky Way galaxy.

This concentration of massive stars, combined with its relatively close distance, means NGC 604 gives astronomers an opportunity to study these objects at a fascinating time early in their life.

In Webb’s near-infrared NIRCam image, the most noticeable features are tendrils and clumps of emission that appear bright red, extending out from areas that look like clearings, or large bubbles in the nebula. Stellar winds from the brightest and hottest young stars have carved out these cavities, while ultraviolet radiation ionises the surrounding gas. This ionised hydrogen appears as a white and blue ghostly glow.

The bright orange streaks in the Webb near-infrared image signify the presence of carbon-based molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. This material plays an important role in the interstellar medium and the formation of stars and planets, but its origin is a mystery. As you travel further from the immediate clearings of dust, the deeper red signifies molecular hydrogen. This cooler gas is a prime environment for star formation.

Webb’s exquisite resolution also provides insights into features that previously appeared unrelated to the main cloud. For example, in Webb’s image, there are two bright, young stars carving out holes in dust above the central nebula, connected through diffuse red gas. In visible-light imaging from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, these appeared as separate splotches.

Webb’s view in mid-infrared wavelengths also illustrates a new perspective on the diverse and dynamic activity of this region. In the MIRI view of NGC 604, there are noticeably fewer stars. This is because hot stars emit much less light at these wavelengths, while the larger clouds of cooler gas and dust glow. Some of the stars seen in this image from the surrounding galaxy are red supergiants — stars that are cool but very large, hundreds of times the diameter of our Sun. Additionally, some of the background galaxies that appeared in the NIRCam image also fade. In the MIRI image, the blue tendrils of material signify the presence of PAHs.

NGC 604 is estimated to be around 3.5 million years old. The cloud of glowing gases extends to some 1300 light-years across.

More information

Webb is the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space. Under an international collaboration agreement, ESA provided the telescope’s launch service, using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service by Arianespace. ESA also provided the workhorse spectrograph NIRSpec and 50% of the mid-infrared instrument MIRI, which was designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI



Bethany Downer
ESA/Webb Chief Science Communications Officer
Email: [email protected]

Ninja Menning
ESA Newsroom and Media Relations Office
Email: [email protected]

About the Release

Release No.:weic2407


NGC 604 (NIRCam image)
NGC 604 (NIRCam image)
NGC 604 (MIRI image)
NGC 604 (MIRI image)
NGC 604 (NIRCam image, annotated)
NGC 604 (NIRCam image, annotated)


Pan of NGC 604 (NIRCam and MIRI images)
Pan of NGC 604 (NIRCam and MIRI images)
Webb's new vies of NGC 604 (NIRCam and MIRI transition video)
Webb's new vies of NGC 604 (NIRCam and MIRI transition video)

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Webb’s views of NGC 604

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